30 Years of African Films at PCC

By Bridge Staff|March 4, 2020Art, Cascade, Community, Movies|

by Lesley McLam

This February, PCC is hosting its 30th Annual Cascade Festival African Films where, in celebration of Black History month, the college annually “honors the art and craft of filmmaking,” from the African continent. To celebrate 30 years, the CFAF will showcase over 30 documentary, feature and short films, with Directors from 18 different African countries between Jan. 31- Feb. 29, 2020.

In conjunction with the 30 year anniversary of the World Cinema Project, a select film from the African Film Heritage Collection will be presented each Wednesday evening, courtesy of the African Film Heritage Project. Aside from opening and closing nights at the Hollywood Theatre, the majority of the films will be presented at Cascade’s Moriarity Arts & Humanities building, room 104.

The Festival’s website says that it is “the longest-running annual, non-profit, non-commercial, largely volunteer-run African Film Festival in the United States.”

The first Cascade Festival of African Films was held in 1991 and had roughly 400 attendees for its initial four film showcase. The website for the event boasts that over 5,000 people now attend the festival annually, which typically presents about two dozen works each year.

It was initially founded in 1991 by four PCC faculty members: Mary Holmström, Linda Elegant, Michael Dembrow, and Joseph Smith-Buani, who sought to expand access to African culture at PCC.

Holmström says that when she arrived in the US from South Africa and began teaching part-time at PCC in the early ’90s, she quickly realized that there were not many local resources on African culture. She had been teaching a class on African cinema and purchasing or renting the reels of film mostly from overseas.

Mary then reached out to another part-time faculty member who worked in the literature department, Linda Elegant, and together decided to put together an African Literature course at the college. The two chose to source the course material from writers in Africa, in order to present a view of the continent through the eyes of those who live there.

Through that process, Holmström says, the realization occurred that film was an ideal medium for people to truly absorb and better understand the rich cultures of the African continent. “The films allowed students to see Africa from the eyes of Africans rather than through the lens of American culture”

In 1991, with the help of then full-time instructor Michael Dembrow and part-time instructor Joseph Smith-Buani, Holmström and Elegant took the idea of a film festival to the College and Cascade campus Presidents who gave the Festival their full support.

Holmström, who was the Festival’s Co-Director until she stepped down in 2010, says that CFAF was run purely by the love of unpaid volunteers until an endowment fund was created the same year she relinquished her leading role in the festival. That love and passion for the Festival is evident among those who still volunteer each year.

The CFAF Endowment Fund was created to generate permanent funding for the festival as well as to fund the two newly created paid positions of Festival Coordinator and Assistant Festival Coordinator, who would step in to fill Holmström’s vacant role. In November 2019, the endowment fund (which is managed by the PCC Foundation) raised $25000 out of its $30000 goal at the CFAF Gala and Fundraiser event.

Due to the CFAF, Portland Community College is home to the African Film Collection in the Cascade library, which was created with the DVDs and videos purchased for the Festival.  The Collection is available to all PCC faculty, students, staff, and members of the public.

Part of the CFAFs mission is to enable awareness and accessibility to African culture at PCC, develop community discussion on issues of personal and global importance, and serve as a resource of information about African cinema.

The Festival, as always, is free and open to the public in order to fulfill the Festival’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility.

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