PORTLAND — The week-long Maine African Film Festival will have its inaugural launch on Friday, April 17.

“Film has the power to heal, to educate, to bring people with different backgrounds and experiences together,” said festival founder and Executive Director Kazeem Lawal, a man passionate about the redemptive power of

While living in or near New York City for years, Lawal cultivated an appreciation for film. Even after relocating to South Portland for a job with FairPoint Communications a little over a year ago, he said he frequently returned to New York to attend different film festivals or multicultural events.

Last fall, he conceived of an idea to combine his love of film with his desire to enhance Mainers’ understanding and knowledge of Africa and its people. With the help of volunteers and grants from local foundations, the Maine African Film Festival was brought to life.

The diverse line-up of fiction, documentary, animated, shorts and
feature-length films chosen for the festival, Lawal said, adhere to the spirit of
depicting universal themes set within the complexity and distinct
cultures and peoples of

He said he is eager for film-goers to learn more about Africa, and move past
the stereotypes of Africans typically portrayed in today’s media.

“Africa is
not just about HIV, blood diamonds or child soldiers,” Lawal said. “There are people
who live there like you or I, who have struggles we can all relate to, like
coming of age, love relationships and friendships.” 

While the majority of the films selected are from the New York African
Film Festival’s Traveling Series, Lawal added a few others that he believes are particularly relevant to Maine.

“While African people may seem so far away, before you know it, that
person is living right next to you,” he said, noting the
growing number of African immigrants in Maine.

To highlight
this trend, he selected a documentary by filmmaker Sharyn Brusie
of Scarborough about the struggle of Africans to establish
themselves as farmers in Maine. Brusie will also participate in a panel
discussion on Maine African farmers following the screening at 5:30
p.m., Wednesday, April 22.

“My goal is for this to be a community project, not
Kazeem’s project,” Lawal said. “I want the films to reach everyone, from little
children to the elderly.”

With that goal in mind, Lawal chose diverse venues for the film
festival. He convinced the Cumberland County Jail, Piper Shores
Retirement Center in Scarborough
and The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine to hold screenings and
discussions of
the films.

The jail and the retirement center will host private screenings and
discussion panels. Films shown at Piper Shores will include perspectives on aging and elderly lifestyles in Africa. The
Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine will screen animated
films, and age-appropriate fiction and documentary films open to the
public on Saturday, April 18, and Friday, April 24.

The festival kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on April 17 with a reception at The Language Exchange, 80 Exchange St.. The reception will also include an exhibit of African photography by Dr. A. Olusegun Fayemi of Nigeria. A screening of the opening film “Africa Unite” will immediately follow at the Nickelodeon at 8 p.m.

Twenty-seven films will be screened between April 18-24, with panel discussions taking place after select films.

A closing party with African music, food and dancing and DJ Frank from New York will start at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 24, at the White Heart Bar & Cocktail Lounge, 551 Congress St..

All tickets are $7 for adults or $5 for students or seniors; 10 percent of all ticket sales will benefit Nigerian orphanage Linkachild.

A full schedule of events including film times and descriptions can be found at tmaff.org.

Heather Gunther can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or [email protected].

Seeds of Change, Fresh Start Farms.JPGIn “Seeds of Change, Fresh Start Farms,” documentary filmmaker Sharyn Brusie of Scarborough follows East African immigrants as they struggle to establish themselves as farmers in Maine. The films screens at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 22, at Nickelodeon Cinema, 1 Temple St., Portland. A panel discussion on being African in Maine will follow. (Courtesy MAFF)

Sidebar Elements

n77234795766_3182.jpgThe inaugural Maine African Film Festival runs April 17-24 in Portland and Scarborough.
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