Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Africa’s Upcoming Premier Documentary Festival

Encounters Documentary Festival 2017

The Encounters Documentary Festival has been an annual film event in South Africa since 1999, taking place in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. This year, the 19th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival will run from 1 June to 11 June, with screenings at the V&A Nouveau, the Labia, and the Bertha Movie House in Cape Town, and at the Rosebank Nouveau and the Bioscope in Johannesburg. Darryl Els, the festival director, reports that over 70 local and international features and shorts will be screened, no fewer than 32 of which are South African and 19 are world premieres.

Click here to see the entire 19th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival programme, including booking and ticket price information, the entire selection of films, the festival schedule, and other features.

The festival receives support from a whole host of sponsors, including the National Film and Video Foundation (an agency of the South African Department of Arts and Culture), the Bertha Foundation, Al Jazeera, various commercial funders, as well as other branches of government cultural agencies. The Wikipedia article on the festival also reports that many overseas festivals and distributors programme from the Encounters Documentary Festival when looking for African content in documentary categories. The festival includes a number of workshops where attendees may engage with these sponsors and other strategic partners, with opportunities to meet funders, see presentations on publicity campaigns for documentary producers, see presentations on producing a debut feature, participate in discussions on the state of documentary filmmaking in South Africa, hear panels on breaking into the South African film industry, hear individual filmmakers talk about their own experiences and issues important to them, and listen to discussions on the forms and possibilities of documentary filmmaking. There are also sessions hosted by Al Jazeera that filmmakers, industry members, and observers may take part in that involve pitching and commenting on new ideas for documentaries, and a lab for filmmakers to get a chance to work on their films in post-production with an editing mentor. The information and schedules for all these events are in the programme.

The main awards given at the festival, sponsored by Backsberg, are the Audience Awards – one for the best South African documentary, and one for the best international documentary. (Ballots may be cast by all attendees at all screenings.) This year, for the first time, there will also be a Youth Jury, which will vote on and present Encounters Youth Experience (EYE) Award for the best South African short. The four jurors are each film students at South African universities between the ages of 19 and 23. This will form part of the festival’s first Encounters Youth Experience, which will specifically engage with young audiences to discuss the craft and form of documentary filmmaking. Special screenings and talks will be held in Cape Town.

The slate of films being screened at the festival are split into three main selections: South African & African, Swiss Focus, and International. Most of the titles are unknown to me, but a few stand out as items of particular interest. First, a title I am familiar with is I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck’s American documentary adapted from an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, Remember This House. That text is given in voice-over narration by Samuel L. Jackson and studies the lives of three slain civil rights heroes – Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. The film was nominated for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. A documentary on the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Winnie, will also be screened, which won the World Cinema Directing Award in the documentary category at Sundance earlier this year. Life, Animated is another of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries, and follows an autistic boy who was brought out of his shell through engaged viewings of Disney movies. Many of the other featured films deal with various pertinent issues of the day: the coup in Madagascar, devastation in Aleppo, the embattled Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, rape and abuse in South Africa, the struggle of the Herero and Nama people in Namibia who sought the return of their ancestor’s remains from Germany, Brexit, fake news in the age of Trump, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, the legacy of forced removals during apartheid, #FeesMustFall, the current disappointment of struggle stalwarts, and the collisions of black memory with white history in South Africa.

Another exciting part of the festival is the Virtual Encounters selection, hosted in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut South Africa. This features a number of multi-platform multimedia works, such as virtual reality, and interacting and video gaming works. These will all be shown at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg and The American Corner in Cape Town. Al Jazeera will also be showing a few of their interactive web documentaries.

Once more, see the programme for more information.

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