The Cascade Festival of African Films was founded in 1991 by four Portland Community College faculty members. Linda Elegant, English and writing instructor, served as the festival coordinator in the beginning years. Mary Holmström, a native of South Africa and African literature instructor at PCC Cascade from 1989-2001, served as the festival’s film programmer. Michael Dembrow, English and film studies instructor, wrote the festival’s renowned film notes. Joseph Smith-Buani, a native of Sierra Leone and math instructor, was the festival’s host.
Approximately 400 people attended the First Annual Cascade Festival of African Films in February 1991. Today, over 5,000 people attend the festival annually. Since its inception, the festival has been offered to the public free of charge and has been organized and run primarily by volunteers. After leading the festival for its first 20 years, Mary Holmström and Michael Dembrow stepped down as the co-directors in June 2010. Veteran CFAF committee member, Allison Mobley, was the interim coordinator of the 21st and 22nd festivals in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Tara Foster, PCC composition, literature and film studies instructor, has been the CFAF coordinator since 2013 with Allison Mobley assisting. Ronna Neuenschwander, the festival’s development coordinator, took over from Allison as the CFAF assistant coordinator in 2014. Founding members Mary Holmström, Michael Dembrow, and Joseph Smith-Buani serve as festival advisers. The CFAF Committee, comprised of 35-40 volunteers from the community, helps plan and run the festival.
From its initial four-film program in 1991, the festival has expanded to a five-weekend-long festival of 20-24 feature and documentary films. Popular festival events include Opening Night, the Thursday evening documentary series, Family Film Day, Student Fest, and Women Filmmakers Week, held during the first week of March in celebration of Women’s History Month. An important offshoot of the festival is the African Film Collection in the PCC Library, where all of the videos and DVDs purchased by the festival are housed. It is one of the largest collections in the Pacific Northwest and is accessible to students, faculty and staff, and the public.
The following visiting film directors have attended the Cascade Festival of African Films:
- Haile Gerima (Ethiopa/USA) in 1995, 2003, 2010.
- Shirikiana Aina (USA) in 1998.
- Taale Laafi Rosellini (USA/Burkina Faso) in 1998.
- Kwaw P. Ansah (Ghana) in 2000, 2007.
- Yemane Demisse (Ethiopia/USA) in 2000.
- Ron and Queenae Taylor Mulvihill (USA/Tanzania) in 2000.
- Safi Faye (Senegal) in 2001.
- Aminah Abdul-Jabbaar (USA) in 2003.
- Souleymane Cissé (Mali) in 2005.
- Norman Maake (South Africa) in 2005.
- Beti Ellerson (USA) in 2005.
- Rafael Rebollar Corona (Mexico) in 2006.
- Eric Kabera (Rwanda) in 2006.
- Sara Rashad (USA/Egypt) in 2006.
- Thomas Allen Harris (USA) in 2007.
- Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon) in 2008.
- Sandy Cioffi (USA) in 2008.
- Kevin Arkadie (USA) in 2009.
- Alrick Brown (USA) in 2009.
- Charles Burnett (USA) in 2009.
- John Kani (South Africa) in 2010.
- George Amponsah (UK/Ghana) in 2010.
- Joséphine Ndagnou (Cameroon) in 2010.
- Cambria Matlow (USA) in 2011.
- Demetrius Wren (USA) in 2011.
- Andrew Dosunmu (Nigeria/USA) in 2012.
- Fathia Absie (Somalia/USA) in 2012.
- Philippe Niang (France/Haiti) in 2013.
- Penda Diakité (USA/Mali) in 2013.
- Eliaichi Kimaro (USA/Tanzania) in 2013.
- Obi Emelonye (UK/Nigeria) in 2014.
- Apolline Traoré (Burkina Faso) in 2014.