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, African literature instructor at the Cascade Campus from 1989-2001 and a native of South Africa, 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 5,500 people attend the festival annually. Since its inception, the festival has been offered to the public free of charge and organized and run entirely by volunteers. Mary Holmström and Michael Dembrow currently serve as the festival’s co-directors. The 25-30 community members who comprise the CFAF Committee work year-around with the co-directors to plan and run the festival.

From its initial four-film program in 1991, the festival has expanded to a five-week-long festival of 20-24 feature and documentary films. Popular festival events include Opening Night, the Thursday evening documentary series, Family Film Day, StudentFest, 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.