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. Aside from the volunteers, the festival is now run by two paid staff: Lead Coordinator, Tracy Francis and Assistant Coordinator, Ronna Neuenschwander (who also serves as the festival’s Development Coordinator). Three of CFAF’s founding members, Mary Holmström, Joseph Smith-Buani and Michael Dembrow, serve as festival advisors and meet with the Executive Committee Members monthly throughout the year to manage the festival planning 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: