The 23rd Annual Cascade Festival of African Films is wrapping up its latest installment with Women Filmmakers Week. Screenings running from Feb. 28 through Mar. 2 will include five films by women representing various parts of the African diaspora.
The Skanner News caught up with featured directors Eliaichi Kimaro and Penda Diakite to discuss their respective films and the importance of telling their own stories.
"One problem is that often times our stories get fed to us," says Kimaro, a first generation American. "We have folks on the outside who are crafting the story of what our own experiences are. We end up becoming the object of other people's stories instead of the subjects of our own.
"When we do step into the role of telling our own stories and sharing our own personal truth, that's when we see just how diverse we are as a people and we can find strength in diversity of experience."
Kimaro's film "A Lot Like You," follows her on her search for identity. Her father is Tanzanian and her mother is South Korean. While her mother's side of the family was often around during her childhood, she says her father's family stayed in Tanzania.
She would spend every other summer in Tanzania but she says her relationship with her father's relatives was distant and remote.
According to Kimaro, she was listening to a song one day that brought back memories of her summers in Tanzania. It sparked thoughts about how she would raise her them. Kimaro knew very little about her Tanzanian heritage so she decided she was going to take a trip and connect with her Tanzanian relatives.
One of the things she found particularly interesting was what certain people chose to omit in their stories.
"Whether that's our unspoken secrets, our hidden truths, our pain, there are filters that we use," says Kimaro. "We all have cultures we've inherited but we all make choices about the culture we're going to pass down to the next generation. I would love for people to think about what's behind the filters they use. And what they choose to tell their kids about who they kids are, where they come from and who their people are. Ultimately, that is what this film is all about."
In order to make the search for her identity most effective, Kimaro decided to film the journey. She had no background in film but she took classes at a local art school and pored through books for almost a year before she and her partner quit their jobs and flew to Tanzania.
Diakite, on the other hand, first picked up a camera when she was in the 5th grade. The now
20-year-old filmmaker and Portland native's film "Tanti and the Neighborhood Kids: Winter Vacation" will be her second film featured at the festival.
It follows five-year-old Tanti around a Bamako, Mali neighborhood and displays children's independence through their culture.
Diakite, who considers Bamako her second home, says the goal of her film was to convey the freedom and independence she felt as a child.
"We could really just walk around wherever and any adults would be there to supervise," she says. "It was a very trusting community. I think that's a really beautiful part of my childhood and the culture."
Diakite's family has been involved with the festival since its inception. She remembers helping mail letters and assisting with family film days when she was really young. Although she began playing around with cameras when she was in 5th grade, Diakite didn't get serious about filming until she was 14.
Most of her work has focused on cultural awareness. Her first film that was featured at the festival was "Welcome to Bamako," which followed her little sister in order to illustrate the daily life of a Malian young lady. She also had a children's book published by Scholastic a few years ago titled "I Lost My Tooth in Africa."
With the recent French led military intervention in Mali, the country has suddenly come into the consciousness of many Americans by way of the news media. Diakite hopes to give a fuller picture of Mali than what many Western media outlets are providing.
"There are a lot of not very positive portrayals of countries in Africa in general," she says. "Obviously what's going on in Mali is not very positive as well.
"Although it's not a great time for the country right now, there are still a lot of positive aspects of the country and beautiful aspects in the culture and the traditions we have that aren't exposed to us in the media and that aren't focused on that people don't know about."
For more information on Women Filmmakers Week and the availability of films outside of the festival, go the Cascade Festival of African Film's website.