Celebrating its 25th year as Africa’s leading international documentary festival, year after year having proudly showcased the boldest, brightest and most compelling non-fiction films from South Africa, Africa and the world, there could be no more fitting Encounters opening night offering than Milisuthando.
Fresh from its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the film looks both backwards and forwards, digging deep into the legacy of apartheid and meditating on the future of South Africa, through its unflinching willingness to examine both the current state of the country and of the filmmaker’s own complex identity, announcing the arrival of a fresh and exciting local filmmaker in director Milisuthando Bongela.
“Premiering this film at home after so many years of brewing and cooking, my only hope is that it will add to the canon of a cinema that softens our understanding of the hardest parts of who we are as a people. And it is with love, as much love as we could muster, that my team and I share this story with South Africans.”
– Milisuthando Bongela
Born in 1985 in Xhosa homeland Transkei, designed by the apartheid regime to belie a false sense of nationhood to the Black majority living there, Bongela’s homage to herself explores her journey of discovery, paralleled with the country’s transition to freedom. In 1994, when the apartheid government fell and democracy came to South Africa, nine-year-old Bongela left behind the only world she knew – which no longer existed – and moved with her family to begin a new chapter in an integrated South Africa.
Told through distinctly different chapters, each with an intention, tone and style of their own, the film deconstructs the documentary form even as it examines Bongela’s upbringing, memories and multifaceted sense of self. Boasting an impressive and extensive trove of archival footage artfully juxtaposed, the effect is almost surreal, at times almost bittersweetly comedic, almost melancholic, and deeply challenging. Featuring interviews both old and new, smartly interpreted, old family footage from her comfortable and happy Transkei childhood home, as well as unflinching and painful contemporary conversations between herself, her family and her white producer, the film is one woman’s bold personal examination that speaks to a greater South African reckoning – in search of who we are and where we’ve come from. Raising questions more than offering answers, in a complex and conflicted country still processing its legacy of oppression, this is a bold, poetic statement of intent from a new filmmaking voice, not to be missed.
“Milisuthando not only challenges us to know and remember: it reminds us that we are inseparable from our histories. That to forget a place like Transkei would, for Bongela, be to forget herself.”
– Rolling Stone
Encounters runs from 22nd June till 2nd July 2023.
The following cinemas will be screening the 2023 Encounters’ line-up:
In Cape Town – Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre, The Bertha House Mowbray, and The Bertha Movie House Isivivana Community Centre Khayelitsha.
In Johannesburg – Ster-Kinekor Rosebank Nouveau, The Bioscope Independent Cinema
More African, South African and International titles and venues will be announced soon.
Twitter handle: @EncountersDoc | Instagram handle: @encountersdoc
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