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For many of us Americans, Africa exists as only a giant multi-colored mass on our world maps. The worst thing about our ignorance of Africa is that people don’t seem too uncomfortable with it — or with our general lack of knowledge about global geography and cultures. In a now-famous video clip, American Idol contestant Kelli Pickler asks (on the TV game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”) if Europe is a country or not, which she trumps by expressing shock at the fact that there exists a place called Hungary; at least the audience laughs. But I wonder if the audience would have laughed at her if she’d never heard of Burkina Faso or Mali or Togo?


Luckily for those of us in Champaign-Urbana, the upcoming African Film Festival presents a unique opportunity to not only catch a number of award-winning films that would never normally come to local theatres, but also to learn something about the lives of people in Mali, Cameroon, Angola and Burkina Faso.

The Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois has put together an impressive array of titles to be shown starting Friday, Feb. 22 and running until the following Thursday, at the Beverly Theatres in Champaign.

The subjects of the films cover a range of subjects particularly relevant to Africa: a community’s anger at the World Bank and the IMF in “Bamako” (Mali 2005); the life of a former child soldier in “Ezra” (Sierra Leone 2007); a man adjusting to life after a bloody civil war in “Herói” (Angola 2005); and the workings of village life in “Tasuma” (Burkina Faso 2004).

Two of the most interesting films to be shown are “Les Saignantes” (Camaroon 2005), an edgy sci-fi feature by director Jean-Pierre Bekolo, and “Kirikou and the Sorceress” (France/Belgium 1998), an animated film based on folk tales and featuring original music by Senegalese megastar Youssou D’our.

For full descriptions of films and schedule of screening times, visit the Center for African Studies website.