Encounters, Africa’s largest documentary film festival, always seems so perfectly timed. As the skies turn grey and the nights become colder and longer, a visit to the cinema seems all the more appealing. And if you can stimulate your mind and learn something about this fascinating world we live in at the same time, then there really is no down side.
As usual, the line-up this year is quite superb, offering a wide array of the best contemporary documentary filmmaking from this country, the continent, and the rest of the world. We strongly recommend finding some time over the next fortnight to rootle through the itinerary and find some gems that pique your curiosity. Here are some of the highlights to look out for:
● Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s latest offer to the Pentagon Where to Invade Next screened for the first time in South Africa.
● 2016 Guggenheim honouree and film veteran Werner Herzog’s wild ride through the web Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World that just premiered at Sundance Film Festival.
● The Shadow World – an international feature documentary on the arms trade based on the former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein’s controversial book.
● A group of six young Soweto filmmakers open the Festival with Soweto The Time of Wrath.
● Maya Angelou and Still I Rise – a heart-breaking portrait of the achingly meaningful story that created one of America’s finest writers.
● South African director Nadine Cloete’s poignant debut feature documentary on anti-apartheid student activist Ashley Kriel.
● Introducing The Dutch Focus which includes the acclaimed Strike a Pose – Madonna’s backing dancers tell their tales.
Two of the world’s most acclaimed documentary film-makers are to screen their latest works in South Africa for the first time next month. Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore’s search for a better life Where to Invade Next? and German veteran film-maker Werner Herzog’s ride through the online jungle Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, will premiere at the 18th Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival, running from 2 – 12 June in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The cutting edge line up “also includes the world premieres of some ground-breaking and politically relevant South African documentaries” says Darryl Els newly appointed Festival Director “plus several new South African voices, including a number of compelling debuts.”
Soweto the Times Of Wrath by a group of young Sowetan filmmakers Siphamandla Bongwana, Jerry Obakeng Gaegane, Stanford Gibson, Nduzo Shandu, Asanda Kupa and Gontse More opens the festival. The film concentrates on those excluded from the so-called South African dream 20 years into democracy.
“What am I in South Africa? I have voted!” shouts an illegal miner as police fire warning shots. Poignant snapshots are captured by the directors supported by French JBA Productions, depicting a country wearied by endemic corruption with frustrated activists (young and old) continuing the struggle for greater equality.
Precious Metal, a UK/SA short by Isis Thompson, takes another look at the Marikana massacre only this time focusing on the women of the Wonderkop settlement. Theirs is a struggle against forgetting the tragedy and a demand for justice, despite continuing violence that ensues between rival unions and Lonmin. Other local shorts to look out for include The Silent Form Simon Wood’s film grapples with the essence of the artist Dylan Lewis and his work and Roger Horn’s beautifully crafted These Objects Those Memories focuses on the mementos that émigrés carry with them. Both shorts receive their world premieres at the Festival.
Action Kommandt: The Untold Story of the Revolutionary Fighter Ashley Kriel – Nadine Cloete’s debut feature exposes the story of anti-apartheid student activist Ashley Kriel. “This is the kind of documentary which we need in South Africa,” says Els. “It is one which makes us confront our past making the voices and the actions of those who fought against apartheid visible to us.” Recently the Hawks have reopened Kriel’s case.
Alison Uga Carlini’s hybrid feature documentary on Alison Botha is a deeply personal and emotional story of triumph and survival. Using a creative and innovative “fairytale” aesthetic, Carlini’s film is a poetic and insightful exploration of trauma and overcoming.
INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL FAVOURITES
A number of internationally acclaimed portraits and documentaries which reflect on the challenging times in which we live will be shown in South Africa for the first time:
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise directed by renowned Afro American writer Rita Coburn Whack together with Bob Hercules pieces together the life of prejudice and oppression that made the seminal American author of ‘Í Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ the great, inspirational author whose name defies categorisation.
Jihan El-Tahri’s revealing profile of Nasser offers a rare insight into the social justice agenda of an Egyptian president whose revolution and the Suez Crisis defied the West. Features candid interviews with revolutionary Free Soldiers, the Muslim Brotherhood and other political groups.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures. Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato trace the controversial artist from his middle-class, small-town upbringing to his success in the 1980s New York art world until his death in 1989 from Aids-related illness. The documentary follows both the pictures and the man, enriched by interviews with curators, celebrities, models, lovers and family from archival audio.
Shadow World, based on former South African ANC MP Andrew Feinstein’s acclaimed book on the global arms trade. Director Johan Grimonprez masterfully takes audiences deep into the murky world of illicit deals, corrupt governments and arms dealers worldwide revealing the true makers of a reality that ensures we will never be at peace….
Requiem for an American Dream, said to be the last full-length interview by one of the world’s most important intellectuals; Noam Chomsky gives a definitive and thought-provoking account of global inequality and how wealth and power has come to rest in the hands of the select few.
A Syrian Love Story, director Sean McAllister’s Bergmanesque portrait of love against a tumultuous political backdrop. With thousands fleeing Syria towards Europe, it is easy to relegate refugees’ stories to sensational newspaper headlines and political banners. This is the story of one man, the people he loves and the country that hates him. A reminder that in every political situation are ordinary people who love, laugh, dream and argue. An intimate family portrait shows all is not fair in love or war.
Evocative films that focus on the plight of children will also be screened.
Walking In My Shoes profiles the story of Siphilele who trudges 15km to school (spruce in the yellow school shirt he ironed that morning) and Nompilo who has to walk two hours home from school and must still fetch 50 litres of water from the communal tap. An elegant, well-researched, beautifully shot and informative film on the lack of transport facing rural learners in South Africa.
Train to Adulthood. Budapest Railway, a Communist relic, survives and thrives offering more than 500 children a refuge from the poverty of their capitalist reality. The award-winning documentary presents a gorgeous, heart-rending coming of age saga raising the question of what is childhood?
In addition, those who love dance and music will be offered a rare glimpse into different artistic world’s from as far as Cuba in Horizontes – soloists at the Ballet Nacionale de Cuba – to black street dancers in Sweden in Martha & Nikki and secret (and illegal) desert dance parties in Raving Iran.
Musical diversity is further explored in A Magical Substance Flows into Me on a spiritual journey of the Israeli/Palestinian territories; Sonita profiling an outspoken female rapper from Afghanistan, I Shot Bi Kidude on the famous African singer and in South African director Nhlanhla Masondo’s Shwabada on the renowned musical historian and philosopher Ndikho Xaba.
Additional films from around the world include Cameraperson by the award-winning US documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson who worked with Michael Moore and Laura Poltras; the Brazilian documentary Boy 23 unearthing the country’s hidden Nazi sympathisers; Hooligan Sparrow an award-winning Chinese film exposing sex abuse and the rights of sex workers in modern China; and British documentaries Chemsex on the London gay scene and Notes of Blindness.
Chilean master documentarian Patricio Guzman’s latest work The Pearl Button a mesmerising film on water will also be shown alongside award-winning African documentaries The Revolution Won’t Be Televised from Senegal and The Night is Fading from Algeria. Other African documentaries selected include The Pearl of Africa from Uganda and A Present From the Past from Egypt.
Additional South African documentaries to be shown include Aryan Kaganof’s Opening Stellenbosch: From Assimilation to Occupation (part 1 & 2) on the recent student-led #FeesMustFall movement at the university, Jean Paul Moodie’s historic piece on the painting of ANC leader Chief Albert Lutuli as Jesus in The Black Christ; Lost Tongue on the San community in the Northern Cape; Taking Stock Ben Stillerman’s portrait of his Benoni shopkeeper father; and Mr. Table Tennis, an inter-generational story set in the new South Africa.
INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL SHORTS
“We’ve changed the way that South African shorts are presented at the festival adopting a visible format that audiences and film-makers will find more engaging and interactive,” says festival director Darryl Els.
The line-up of international shorts includes Art of Flying from Holland (with Horizontes); Famous in Ahmedabad (with Magical Substance) from India, It’s My Road from Madagascar on an elderly water bearer (with I Shot be Kidude); Pink Boy a gender non-conforming six-year old (with The Pearl of Africa) and The Visit from Egypt on staged talks during a World Bank inspection on agricultural development around the Niger Delta.
South African shorts include Aryan Kaganof’s Lamentation on soldiers’ use of blackface; Bunny Chatter, Umva on contemporary student struggles, Alive & Kicking; the Soccer Grannies of South Africa, Baba Nkomo Umelusi and Daily Dose on ARV treatment.
With South Africa and The Netherlands recent signing of a co-production treaty, new international opportunities are opening up for local filmmakers. In the spirit of this co-operation, Encounters and EYE International present three exceptional contemporary Dutch films at this year’s festival.
A Family Affair – Tom Fassaert’s extraordinary family scrapbook with missing pages and blank spaces that makes meaning of memories and why we create them.
Strike A Pose- Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s provocative documentary on the off-stage antics of the seven handsome back-up dancers who accompanied pop star Madonna on her Blonde Ambition World Tour in 1990.
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning – Morgan Knibbe’s harrowing, intimate and tender documentary of a migrant’s journey to an unnamed European port city on a dinghy that capsizes.
For more info and the full line-up visit www.encounters.co.za