It's shamefully rare that anyone in the United States gets a chance to see an insider's view of life on the African continent. You can find plenty of films about Africa, but precious few made by people who live there. Portland's annual Cascade Festival of African Films goes a long way toward correcting that. And all the films and related events are free.

If you have time for only one festival movie this week, make it The Hero. Set in Angola and directed by Zézé Gamboa, this film follows the intersecting lives of an orphan, a prostitute and a war hero who's lost his leg—and his prosthesis. After decades of war, plus continuing violence, almost total unemployment, no schools and rampant corruption, you'd think Angola would be a pretty bleak scene. But this film is just the opposite. Humor, kindness and a generosity of spirit keep springing up as each of the three main characters searches for the part of him or herself that has been lost. Despite its grim subject matter, the film is uplifting without artificially tugging at heartstrings. It's playing at the festival's opening-night gala. 5 and 7 pm (all ages) and 9 pm (21 and over) Friday, Feb. 3, at McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 NE 33rd Ave.

Opening weekend continues Saturday with two films: Darwin's Nightmare, directed by Hubert Sauper, is a Tanzania-Austria-France collaboration that illustrates the dangers of globalization by looking at the Nile perch. This fish, introduced into Tanzania's Lake Victoria as an experiment in the '60s, quickly took over both the lake and the export market; it's now illegally traded for weapons, supporting the region's continued warfare. 2 pm Saturday, Feb. 4, in PCC-Cascade, Moriarty Building, Room 104, 705 N Killingsworth St.

Heritage, by well-known Nigerian director Ladi Ladebo, concerns the Nigerian government's collusion in selling traditional artifacts to Western museums and collectors. When one professor stands up to fight the sale of a bronze chest sacred to the Yoruba people, he attracts the attention and the help of an African-American student researching his heritage. 7:30 pm Saturday. Feb. 4, in PCC-Cascade, Moriarty Building, Room 104. In English, so no excuses.

The festival continues Thursdays-Saturdays through March 4. Highlights include Family Film Day on Saturday, Feb. 18, featuring two films by local Malian artist Baba Wagué Diakité and his author/filmmaker daughter Penda Diakité. Most films will be followed by speakers and discussions. For details, go to or call 244-6111, ext. 3630.

7:30 pm Saturday. Feb. 4, in PCC-Cascade, Moriarty Building, Room 104. In English, so no excuses.

For details, go to or call 244-6111, ext. 3630.