Encounters doccie film festival offers real stories about real people

Coming to Cape Town and Joburg, this documentary film festival is your chance to see the world reflected on screen in all its ugly, beautiful, maddening glory

02 June 2019 - 00:03 By
A scene from the documentary 'Buddha in Africa'.
A scene from the documentary 'Buddha in Africa'.
Image: Supplied

Humanity: a despairing, writhing, incalculable mix of bodies and ideas and actions that spreads across millions of miles of the planet bringing us joy, tears, humour and moments of regret and disbelief.

As the Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival, Africa's foremost and longest-running event of its kind, enters its 21st year, the films on offer present a range of examinations of the human condition, allowing us to reflect on where we are, where we've come from and how we live. Some of these might reinforce your faith in the human species, and others may leave you cringing and ashamed at our lack of empathy or consideration for each other.

The opening-night film Buddha in Africa focuses on young Malawians raised in an orphanage. They speak Mandarin, train in martial arts and are expected to represent themselves as a symbol of China's beneficial influence in Africa while forgetting their personal histories and realities.

Then there's Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui's McQueen - the sad and complicated story of the life of fashion legend Lee Alexander McQueen, a working-class, gay hero of the fashion world, whose tragic death by suicide in 2010 left many of his friends and the world he dominated shocked and heartbroken.

WATCH | The trailer for 'McQueen'

There's the poignant and bittersweet Talking About Trees - an examination of the attempts of three Sudanese filmmakers to bring back the simple pleasures of the format to a country that has worked hard to stamp out cinema over the course of its bloody and violent history because of the power of the medium to affect a change in ideas.

It's a history of a relatively unknown but important moment in African cinema. African cinema is also the subject of director Jacqueline Gozland's haunting and meditative film My Story is Not Written Yet, which examines the legacy of the cinema of Algeria.

The legendary musician and social activist Fela Kuti gets his just recognition in Brazilian director Joel Zito Araújo's My Friend Fela, which explores the artist's legacy and influence through the eyes of his friend and biographer Carlos Moore and other people who knew him - placing his music firmly within the struggle for Black Consciousness that Kuti was exposed to in the 1960s and '70s after time spent in London and New York.

Kuti's journey to consciousness and political activism is mirrored by that of '80s hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, who in the film Zulu Return makes a spiritual quest to KwaZulu-Natal in an effort to deal with accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse levelled against him from within the hugely influential Zulu Nation organisation that he founded.

Finally a pair of films from SA, Dying For Gold and Jozi Gold, focus their gaze on the lives of the people who made the country's economic success possible - the miners who devoted their lives to working underground in terrible conditions and whose sacrifices have often led to early death and trauma for their families - and the long-term environmental impact of the mining process on surrounding communities.

In short, Encounters continues to provide viewers with a multitude of real stories about real people around the world that help us to realise that humanity is indeed a varied, complex and many-layered thing.

• Encounters takes place from June 6-16 at Cinema Nouveau Rosebank, The Bioscope at Maboneng and The Labia in Cape Town. See encounters.co.za