By Michael Dembrow
The 23rd CFAF is approaching, and it’s shaping up to be a great one. But it will be a challenge for it to be better than last year’s festival, which was outstanding in terms of audience turnout (5,000 attendees over the five weeks of the festival), quality of the films and discussion, and smoothness of the event.
Everyone has their own highlights from the 22nd festival, but here are some of mine:
Opening night with the Jefferson Dancers II brought great energy and excitement to the Hollywood Theatre for Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story and the after-film discussion withDr.Taghrid Khuri, a Jordanian Women’s Studies professor at PSU; Asmaa Taha, an Egyptian Fulbright scholar teaching Arabic at Reed College; and Kristine Rabii, an Iranian-American student at PSU.
Week two’s Restless City drew a huge crowd, filling both the Moriarty Hall auditorium and the overflow auditorium in Terrell Hall. Our special guest was the film’s director, Andrew Dosunmu,originally from Nigeria, but now one of New York City’s top photographers and directors of music videos. This film, set in New York’s African expatriate community, was a sophisticated, gorgeous piece of work. The question/answer session following the film went on for well over an hour, as the audience simply didn’t want to let him go (despite the lure of the after-film party at Enjoni, the Ethiopian restaurant across the street).
Week three’s focus on Somali-Americans was another highlight, particularly the conversation that we had on “Somali Saturday” with members of our local Somali community, discussing the issues embodied in the films The Letter and Broken Dreams (whose director, Fathia Absie, was in attendance). Hundreds of people were at PCC Cascade for the program, with the dialogue continuing at a reception hosted by the Somali community. Somali-Americans have so much to contribute to this state and this country, but they face so many difficulties and prejudices based on their ethnicity, nationalism, and religion. Having them become part of the festival and allowing them to host this brilliant young Somali-American woman meant a great deal to them and to us.
The magical realism of Sleepwalking Land from Mozambique captivated the audience. Set in the final, exhausted days of that country’s seemingly never-ending civil war, it followed the developing relationship between two displaced persons, an old man and a young boy. The two wind up wandering from the reality of war to the endless loop of a waking dream, a dream suffused with sorrow, the fruits of horror, and a deep humanity.