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Cascade Festival of African Films turns 20

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A wildly popular film festival that has become synonymous with the Cascade Campus of Portland Community College turns 20 years old this February.

The Cascade Festival of African Films honors the art and craft of filmmaking from that continent. The movies imported for the festival draw capacity crowds every year and are shown Thursdays through Sundays at various North Portland locations through February and early March.

A scene from the Toronto Film Festival-selected film, 'Teza.'

“The 20th festival will showcase 22 outstanding feature and documentary films from every region of the African continent,” said Mary Holmstrom, one of the event’s organizers.

It’s a film festival with one of the largest collections of African films in the Northwest and its dedicated legion of volunteers are set to celebrate its 20th year by bringing acclaimed Ethiopian film director Haile Gerima to Portland.

Gerima will open the festival, which attracted more than 5,000 filmgoers in 2009, with the showing of his Toronto Film Festival selected film, “Teza,” at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, Feb. 5. The film chronicles the return of an African intellectual to his country of birth during a repressive Marxist regime. Gerima is a director, screenwriter and producer, living in Washington, D.C. He is one of a handful of African filmmakers to earn international fame and has been a professor of film at Howard University since 1975.

Haile Gerima

The festival honoring Black History Month runs from Feb. 5 through March 6 at the Cascade Campus’s Moriarty Auditorium (705 N. Killingsworth St.), McMenamins Kennedy School Theatre (5736 N.E. 33rd Ave.) and the Hollywood Theatre (4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd.). The Cascade Festival of African Films is free and open to the public. It features a wide range of films and special matinee days and feature nights. They include StudentFest Matinee on Feb. 18, Family Film Day on Feb. 20 and ends with Women’s Filmmakers Week.

For details on the schedule, visit:

The film festival was founded in 1991 by four Portland Community College faculty. Approximately 400 people attended the first annual Cascade Festival of African Films. Today, more than 5,000 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.

Longtime PCC English instructor Michael Dembrow (you might also know him as a member of the Oregon Legislature) said few could have predicted the all-volunteer-driven festival would hit its emerald anniversary.

“When you’re putting on a high-quality film festival entirely with volunteers, every year is a miracle,” said Dembrow, who has been with the festival since the beginning. “The response from community members has been so strong, so many people have stepped forward to help out, and PCC’s support has been so solid, that we just keep on chugging along. This year’s program is shaping up to be our strongest yet – the miracle continues.”

Film Festival logo.

Additional guests this year include:

• John Kani, a South African actor, playwright and director, will present his film, “Nothing But the Truth” on Feb. 12. The film is an adaptation of Kani’s stage play and took second place at the film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

• George Amponsah, a director, will present his latest documentary, “The Fighting Spirit,” on Feb. 25. The film focuses on boxing in Accra, Ghana.

• Joséphine Ndagnou, also a director, comes to town with her first feature-length film, “Paris or Nothing,” on March 5. She not only directed the film, but wrote the screenplay and has a role in the film, as a woman from Cameroon who moves to Paris.

For more information, call (503) 244-6111, ext. 3630, or e-mail

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »