Inspired by four Portland Community College faculty members, the Cascade Festival of African Films was founded in 1991 in Portland, Oregon.
“The purpose of the festival is for Africans to promote their culture and tell their own stories,” commented Tracy Francis, the lead coordinator of the festival.
Francis has a background in cultural diplomacy. She has an interest in works from international artists and cultural experiences through the arts. Drawn by the festivals mission, Francis joined the organizing committee in Sept. of last year.
Francis pointed out that in current times Africa has little to no representation at all.
“Film is a captured realism of a place and time [where] you can share your ideas with more people,” Francis said. “Its a very different way of presenting important ideas. All of the films [participating in the festival] are relatable to the human experience.”
By using means such as film to provide an opportunity to empathize with different people, “it is a small step towards creating peace in the world,” Francis said.
Amongst the four founders, Dr. Joseph Smith-Buani* is a faculty member of PSU in the the Black Studies Department. He is an adjunct instructor and teaches courses on Africa, African immigration to Oregon/the United States, and African cinema. Smith-Buani’s profound interest in African studies is what let him to take part in the festival.
Recently, Smith-Buani’s worked at the PSU Population Research Center. Smith-Buani’s research focuses on population studies involving school enrollment and other demographic changes. He has worked with the young African immigrant population in Portland through the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.
Initially, the festival program featured four films. Today, the festival is a five weekend-long event with 20-24 features and documentary films. This year there are 18 films and 19 directors participating in the festival. Organized and run primarily by volunteers, the event is offered to the public free of charge. In the first year approximately 400 people attended the festival. This number has grown to an attendance rate of over 5,000 people.
The films are drawn from a pool of submitted and invited films. A committee selects interested films; guided by the originating country of the film and their genres.
The festival is organized into different sub-categories including Opening Night, The Thursday Evening Documentary series, Family Film Day, Student Fest, and Women Filmmakers Weekend, in honor of the Women’s History Month in the first week of March.
The Thursday evening documentary series showcases films that explore the theme of music, arts and social change.
For example, the opening night film, “Rooftops”, is a cinematic analysis of its own society from Algeria. Similarly, other films in the event deal with social and political issues specific to the country of the film, including disfranchised youth and feminism.
Family film nights highlight films that are friendly for all family members to watch. These films span a wide range of genres including romantic comedies as well as animated African films. This event includes coloring for kids, family social night, and live music. Open to all ages.
PCC’s library of African film collection holds all videos and DVDs purchased by the festival. This provides a rare opportunity for students, faculty and staff–and the public–to gain access to one of largest collections in the Pacific Northwest.
Celebrating Black History month, the annual Cascade Festival of African Films is an on-going annual film festival that takes place from Feb. 5 to March 5. This event is sponsored in part by the PSU Black Studies Department as well as the PSU Middle East Studies Center.
Visit the website for film information and showtimes: africanfilmfestival.org
*Smith-Buani is no longer on the faculty at PCC