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Written byLiam Girie

“The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.” – Anthony de Mello

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending one of the many screenings being hosted by the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival this year. Since its inception in 1999, Encounters has hosted 24 editions of the Festival whose aim is to highlight some of the magnificent contemporary works coming out of the South African film industry and from abroad. The pool of talent on showcase is as diverse as our country itself and features filmmakers from across the industry’s spectrum, from aspiring student directors to distinguished professionals, offering substantial insight into the level at which our film industry is at.

For the last two years, while the pandemic and its subsequent lockdown regulations were in full swing, Encounters hosted the #VirtuallyEverywhere online festival. Following the long-anticipated return to normalcy, Encounters has now celebrated its #BackTogether screenings which were hosted both physically as well as in digital spaces, the idea behind which is to revolutionise the degree of access that people have to the festival. With screenings having been viewable across numerous venues in Cape Town and Jozi and even from the comfort of your home, the accessibility of Encounters is indeed more unfettered than ever before. If you are a cinephile like myself, this is all the more reason for you to explore what this festival has on offer and its importance each year.

“These conversations are shaped by storytellers from our curated documentaries and various experts including local and international filmmakers, editors, producers, distribution experts, academics, psychologists, lawyers, education specialists and many more.” – Mandisa Zitha, Festival Director

Encounters exposed the nation to a brilliantly curated variety of documentary films and subsequent Q&A’s and panel discussions where This year’s festival included notable films from across the African continent. Films from countries including Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Morocco, Mali, Rwanda, South Sudan and Nigeria were all screened in Encounters’ 2022 instalment. Over the course of 10 days, attendees got the opportunity to meet the great minds behind the projects and discuss more about the details involved. Concurrently, the Encounters Talks online programme hosted a number of digitally accessible panel discussions for people to tune into. These discussions were the collaborative effort of Encounters and many other organisations within the film industry. The subjects covered in these panels are said to have targeted filmmakers of all levels of experience.

The documentaries I was able to view were eye-opening and inspiring to say the least.

I was invited to join a screening of UCT student films at Bertha House in Mowbray where I was not only impressed with the quality of the editing and cinematography but I was also touched to see the sort of subject matter being addressed by filmmakers of a young age. Issues such as race, identity, and mental health were at the fore – a clear reflection of this generation’s zeitgeist and exactly the kind of media that we need to be spotlighting. Most of the student films I watched tackled issues endemic not only to our country’s generation of young adults but to our women in particular. Although each and every documentary I saw struck chords and left me with much to think about, Thaakirah Berhardien’s film on the perceived homogeny and limited representation of Muslim women in the media really stood out for me. I was appreciative of the film’s message regarding the plight of women in a country fraught with gender-based discrimination and violence. I am also glad to see the issues that face Cape Malay people brought into the wider discussion as I believe it is long overdue.

‘Story is important because the presence of diversity is not enough. Exposure to people whose backgrounds, experiences, and cultures are different from our own is highly important – we can’t learn about something if we don’t have experience with it.’ – Jessica Pierson Russo

To conclude; if you are interested in keeping up with the topical discourse being explored by the up and coming creatives within our country’s film industry then you have my keenest encouragement to attend the Encounters Film Festival next year. It is also one of if not the most accesibles means through which South Africans can learn more about the many promising developments in the African film industry as a whole. Especially if you have a love for the art of filmmaking and believe in its immense ability to actualise positive social change, Encounters is a cultural event worth supporting. 

If you missed this year’s events and would like to learn more about the films that were showcased, there is an archive section on the Encounters website wherein you access synopses and links to all 2022 features as well as those from years before. If you are based here in the Mother City, be sure to catch Encounters next year at the Labia Theatre.

For more of our Visceral features, click here.