After four years, Encounters: The South African International Documentary Festival has found its rhythm. The event, held this year from July 21 to August 7 in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, attracted an estimated 6,500 attendees and screened 46 films. ‘Finally, South Africa seems to have woken up and we are established,’ says Nodi Murphy, Encounters’ co-director (with Steven Markovitz).
Although the fest’s business side was low key, Cape Town’s Close Encounters Laboratory session was ‘bloody marvelous,’ says Murphy.
Coinciding with the fest’s Cape Town events, Close Encounters linked domestic filmmakers with four internationally recognized doc-makers – Vikram Jayanti (James Ellroy’s Feast of Death), Christian Frei (War Photographer), Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich (Eye of the Day) and Brian Tilley (It’s My Life). After working with their tutors for a week, the junior doc-makers pitched to the South African Broadcasting Corp.
The pubcaster ended up commissioning more docs for SABC1 than it had intended: four instead of three. The successful pitchers were Catherine Muller for Spandex in Alex, a film about male prostitutes from Alexandria (near Johannesburg); Bearthur Baker for Sex & Transactions, Weddings & Babies, about women who engage in ‘transactional sex,’; Mandilakhe Mjekula for The Ritual, about male circumcision; and Khalo Matabane for A Beautiful Country, which looks at the power of talk radio in the nation.
The importance of the festival can’t be overstated, because the country is ‘so far away from other centers in the world,’ says producer Don Edkins of Cape Town-based Day Zero, who presented five docs about HIV/AIDS from the Steps of the Future project. ‘I think that for the next Encounters we should take care to expand, so that there is more of a chance for meetings in which you can discuss documentary film in an industry-orientated direction, as opposed to a publicquestion-and-answer session after a film,’ he says.
Splitting the event between Cape Town and Jo’burg was a challenge, says Murphy. Ultimately, only ‘choice of the fest’ docs screened in Johannesburg, from August 2 to 7.
The audience award for Best Film went to Frei’s War Photographer. The best South African film went to AMANDLA! a revolution in four part harmony, produced by Lee Hirsch and Sherry Simpson.