A number of films programmed at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, which begins on June 22 in Cape Town, offer captivating explorations of the human condition in Africa from deep within and with collaborative respect from abroad.
Many of the African films selected are co-productions between African and international filmmakers, providing authentic voices to the stories being told. The international co-productions investigate gender-based violence in a small town, the beguiling and faceless workings of social media in the heart of Africa, child soldiers and war crimes, social welfare grant experiments and multi-racial punk music of the 80’s Apartheid era.
Dorpie, directed by Julia Jaki (SA/Germany), follows the journey of a community worker in the small town of Bredasdorp, where she establishes a safe house for victims of gender-based violence. The film explores the challenges she faces as she strives to protect girls and women and confront the deep-rooted structural inequalities that continue to hinder the most vulnerable in South African society.
In the compelling and comedic The Other Profile, directed by Armel Hostiou (France/DRC), follows Hostiou as he investigates a fake Facebook account using his name and photos to lure women in Kinshasa to audition for his next film. This is a unique and insightful perspective on identity, authenticity and the impact of social media on our lives.
Free Money, directed by Lauren De Filipppo and Sam Soko (US/Kenya), follows a basic income experiment in rural Kenya facilitated by Give Direct, examining the impact of providing a small grant to villagers while at the same time presenting a complex human story that reflects on the role of wealth in our lives.
Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier who became the first to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, is the subject of Theatre of Violence, directed by Lukasz Konopa and Emil Langbelle (Denmark/ Germany/Uganda), that offers a powerful and thought-provoking perspective on restorative justice and the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court.
The rise and fall of a multiracial punk band during the decline of apartheid is examined in This is National Wake, directed by Mirissa Neff (South Africa/US).
The festival features a number of films from Africa’s own perspective. We witness the remarkable journey of a pop star turned parliamentarian, the harrowing experiences of children affected by war, the challenges of securing food for families, the pursuit of economic independence, student life in central Africa amidst poverty and corruption and the impact of corporate influence on farming.
We follow Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine – aka Robert Kyagulanyi – in his rise from the ghettos of Kampala to a seat in the Ugandan parliament in Bobi Wine: The People’s President, directed by Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp (Uganda/UK). Current president Yoweri Museveni has no plans to resign after 30 years, and so Wine incurs the full-blown wrath of the Ugandan state. Fuelled by Wine’s infectious tunes, the film is both riveting and heartbreaking, echoing 2022’s Navalny in its portrait of a charismatic, popular and media-savvy opposition politician who takes on the leader of a fascist state.
The anti-war film Le Spectre de Boko Haram, directed by Cyrielle Raingou (Cameroon/France), sensitively captures children’s lives under constant threat of Boko Haram’s violence.
In Bangui, Central African Republic, two worlds collide, or rather, coexist in this visually engaging and character-driven documentary Eat Bitter, directed by Pascale Appora-Ghekindy and Ningy Sun (CAR/US). The film centres around Thomas Boa, a determined man with a modest ambition of providing for his family. Similarly driven is Luan, a Chinese construction manager from a vastly different background. Viewers are given a glimpse of what it truly means to “eat bitter, taste sweet”.
Money, Freedom, a Story of CFA Franc, directed by Katy Lena Ndiaye (Senegal/ France/Belgium), is an ambitious and detailed documentary exploring the controversial use of the CFA franc currency in West and Central Africa, highlighting the impact of colonialism and urging action for economic independence and sovereignty in Africa.
We, Students!, directed by Rafiki Fariala (CAR/France/DRC), portrays the harsh realities of university life in the Central African Republic, where poverty and corruption run rampant.
The Last Seed, directed by Andrea Gema (Germany/Senegal/Tanzania/SA), offers a compelling perspective on corporatized agricultural methods through the eyes of African farmers and environmental organisations.
South African filmmakers delve into a range of captivating subjects, including a meteorologist’s extraordinary love affair with an extra-terrestrial being, the transformative Square Kilometre Array project in the Karoo, the evolving landscape of post-apartheid Afrikaner culture through theatre, a personal examination of a small conservative town, and the profound influence of communal support for mothers with new-borns.
In Reflections in a broken mirror directors Amber Fox-Martin and Philip Theron (SA) delve into how theatre has reshaped Afrikaner culture in post-apartheid South Africa through key productions that challenged dominant Afrikaner identity.
In 1001 Days, Kethiwe Ngcobo and Chloe White (SA/UK) offer a tender and eye-opening account of the Ubulele Visiting Home programme in Alexandra, South Africa, following eight devoted women who support hundreds of new mothers during the first 1001 days of their babies’ lives.
Uga Carlini’s Beyond the Light Barrier (SA/Italy/ Ukraine), narrated by John Kani, explores the extraordinary life of Elizabeth Klarer, a South African meteorologist who devoted herself to proving the existence of Akon, her extra-terrestrial lover from the planet Meton in the Proxima Centauri solar system. The film features archival footage, recent interviews with Klarer’s family and friends, as well as sceptics and Southern African Ufologists, offering an in-depth look at her enigmatic life.
!Aitsa, directed by Dane Dodds (SA/Denmark), transcends tradition, science and spirituality, immersing viewers in a journey that explores the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the Karoo.
Then a Swiss focus on Africa and India feature in three remarkable films: Rolando Colia and Josef Burri’s Out of Uganda powerfully documents the struggles of four LGBT youth in Uganda facing continual harassment and threats. With no safe harbour, the only way for them to guarantee their safety is to seek asylum in Switzerland.
Rudi van der Merwe’s Calvinia (SA/Switzerland) is a poetic documentary about the small South African town and its impact under apartheid’s value system.
Don’t Worry About India, directed by the Nama Film Collective (Germany/ Switzer- land/India), is a charming film about a young Indian filmmaker who has been living in Europe and returns to India to document the 2019 election.
Encounters South African International Documentary Festival runs from 22 June until 2 July 2023.
Cinemas screening the 2023 Encounters’ line-up include: