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Top picks from Encounters 2022 as festival returns to physical screens

There is a wide variety of local and international doccies to choose from at the 'in the flesh' festival in Jozi and Cape Town after two years of online-only

19 June 2022 - 00:00
Alexei Navalny in 'Navalny'.
Alexei Navalny in 'Navalny'.
Image: Encounters

After two years of online-only, the 24th edition of this year’s Encounters International South African Documentary Festival returns to physical screens at CineCentre Killarney and The Bioscope in Johannesburg, and to The Labia in Cape Town. As always, there is a wide variety of local and international documentaries to choose from. Here are some suggestions to help you plan your viewing:



Shot in real-time as the scandal surrounding his alleged poisoning by agents of President Vladimir Putin's regime grabbed global headlines in 2020 unfolded, director Daniel Roher’s fly-on-the-wall examination of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s fight to expose the truth of what happened to him, his eventual return to Russia and his immediate arrest by the authorities is as gripping as any thriller.

The story ends before the invasion of Ukraine but the picture it paints of the lengths to which the Putin regime will go to suppress opposition and criticism is chilling and offers a timely reminder why the Russian leader continues to be one of the most frightening figures in geopolitics.

WATCH | 'Navalny' trailer.


Director Bernadette Wegenstein makes satisfying use of her behind-the-scenes access to world-renowned classical conductor Marin Alsop in this inspiring tribute to Alsop's life. Alsop was determined to break through the protected glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to head an American orchestra.

The film follows Alsop through her busy life as a conductor in Baltimore, São Paulo and Vienna as she demonstrates her abilities. She is a passionate believer in the power of music to unite across social, gender and political divides.

WATCH | 'The Conductor' trailer.


Almost a decade after her death, singer Cesária Évora remains a beloved voice in world music and national treasure of her homeland, Cape Verde. It's directed by Portuguese filmmaker Ana Sofia Fonseca, who depicts a complicated character suffering from depression, loneliness and insecurities in this intimate, archive-rich production. Évora was a late bloomer who only found success in her 50s. She drank and chain-smoked well after she knew it was time to quit.

WATCH 'Cesária Évora' trailer.


Bianca Stigter’s movie is a powerful, poignant meditation on memory, loss and the power of film as a medium to shape them. It takes as its subject three minutes of footage shot in 1938 during a Jewish family’s holiday in Poland and discovered 70 years later by a man named Glenn Kurtz in his parents’ closet.

What follows is a masterful piece of celluloid detective work that relies solely on the three minutes of ghostly footage of people whose fates would be sealed by the terrible events of the Holocaust. As Kurtz attempts to microscopically analyse as many clues as he can from the footage, Stigter almost manages to bring these unknown people so fully back to life that for a brief moment we can imagine a world in which their lives hadn't ended so tragically.

WATCH | 'Three Minutes – A Lengthening' trailer.


A tribute for cineastes to the organisations, historical figures and present day heroes of film restoration who have, through eccentric personal determination and clever wheeling and dealing, made it possible for some of the most significant films in cinema history to be seen across generations. It’s a fascinating technical examination of the fragility and temperamental nature of physical film that reminds us of the necessity of its preservation.

WATCH | 'The Living Record of our Memory' trailer.


Akuol  de Mabior takes a personal journey back to her homeland of South Sudan as its fate hangs in the balance after decades of civil war. For the director and her sister, who've grown up outside their country, it's hard to reconcile the idea of home with South Sudan.

For their mother returning to continue the legacy of her late husband who was pivotal in negotiating peace in their war-torn country, the fight for a better future for South Sudan is all-consuming. The tensions between this family of strong women reflects the broader tensions at work in the battle for peace.

WATCH | 'No Simple Way Home' trailer.


Zimbabwean director Rumbi Katedza gives a human face to the statistic of the over $1 billion dollars in transactions made by her country’s diaspora population in 2021, mostly conducted using mobile phones.

The film explores the reality of these transactions through the story of one Zimbabwean family whose members are scattered across the globe. The stories of ordinary people doing their best to survive under extraordinary social and political circumstances is portrayed with humour and humanity.



Director Mpumi “Supa” Mbele offers a solidly executed, respectful tribute to one of South African music’s most memorable and likeable legends — the late Joseph Shabalala, founder of the pioneering superstar, five-time Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Using a rich archive from the group’s six decades of history and interviews with family members, colleagues and collaborators such as Paul Simon and Dolly Parton, it’s a definitive look at a man who changed the world through a unique combination of determination, humility and humanity.

WATCH | 'Music is My Life' trailer.


Jane Lipman’s warm portrait of the life and times of the late human rights lawyer and national treasure George Bizos cements the Greek-born humanitarian icon’s legacy as a pivotal figure in South African history whose own eventful life and personal experiences helped shape his ideals and the future of his adopted homeland.


Award winning documentarians Francois Verster and Simon Wood team up to take us behind the scenes of the Zephany Nurse case that gripped the headlines in 1997. Here, told in the words of the Nurse family and their long-lost daughter Miché Solomon, is the story of an ordinary couple whose child was abducted from Groote Schuur hospital and raised by her non-biological parents who lived a stone’s throw away from . For 17 years they waited for her return until their second daughter met a girl at her high school who resembled her — and turned out to be her missing sister.


There’s plenty of hope to be had for the future of African leaders if the driven, smart young aspiring lawyers from the continent profiled in Shameela Seedat’s film are anything to go by. The film follows a group of the best and brightest young law students from across Africa as they gather in Gaborone, Botswana, for a week of fierce debate, intense competition and idealistic oration during their participation in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court competition.

WATCH | 'African Moot' trailer.


Actor Lindiwe Matshikiza moves behind the camera as director of this collaborative, imaginative look at its protagonist — the hard-fighting Mothiba Grace Bapela, a middle-aged domestic worker turned professional actor. Her life is one of hardship and difficulty but also surprise, humour and warmth. Matshikiza and her collaborators — Bapela herself, actor and writer Masello Motana, editor Khalid Shamis and musician Joao Orechhia create a freewheeling, multi-formatted, uplifting film that reflects its subject’s tenacity and humanity.

WATCH | 'One Take Grace' trailer.


Riaan Hendricks’ film paints an engaging, empathetic picture of a community of Western Cape fishermen and their families. After the tragic events of a deadly storm a decade ago, the surviving fishers and their loved ones are forced to ask themselves difficult questions about their relationship to the sea — an untamable force of nature so intricate to their livelihoods but indifferent to their fragility as human beings.

WATCH | 'Tear Salted Sea' trailer.


The University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Humanities Research founder Pramesh Lalu takes a deep dive into the history and cultural life of Athlone. The Cape Town suburb was created as a “dumping ground” for the city’s coloured residents during the dark days of apartheid but survived as a place where their creative spirit and defiance helped give it a unique character.    

WATCH | 'The Double Futures of Athlone' trailer.


An impassioned, informative re-examination of the hidden, alternative history of Afrikaans music and the non-white pioneers and mavericks whose voices have been excluded from an industry indelibly shaped in the popular imagination in the service of apartheid white supremacist ideology.  

WATCH | 'The Voice Behind The Wall' trailer.

• The 24th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival takes place from June 23 to July 03. See here for more information.