The opening night film, coming just weeks after its world premiere at Hot Docs, is Buddha In Africa. Directed by Nicole Schafer, the film receives its joint South African premiere at Encounters and the 40th  annual Durban International Film Festival.

The documentary is about a Malawian teenager in a Chinese Buddhist orphanage in Africa who finds himself torn between his African roots and Chinese upbringing. The film focuses on Enock, a teenager caught between his traditional culture, his dreams of becoming a martial arts hero like Jet Li and the discipline of Confucianism.

The film aims to pose complex questions about race, imperialism, faith and culture and offers a subtle exploration of the impact of soft cultural power on the identity and interior life of a boy and his community.

Schafer says, "It’s also about Africa's relations with other foreign nations, including the former colonisers. It's this idea that the key to the future of the continent’s development is always held by outsiders and that, in order to succeed, we have to adapt to foreign value systems and policies. I think Enock’s story challenges this idea in very refreshing ways."

Encounters will also once again co-present several South African and international documentaries in association with DIFF. The partnership has aimed to enable filmmakers to premiere their films at both festivals for the last 14 years.

For the next 10 days, from Thursday, 6 June to Sunday, 16 June, audiences will have the opportunity to see this year’s top-rated documentaries. They are:


Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui’s McQueen is a portrait of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Nominated for a BAFTA for both Best Documentary and Outstanding British Film of the Year, the film won 2019’s LGBTQ Documentary of the Year from the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Directed by Mads Brügger, the film won Best World Documentary Director at February’s Sundance Festival and received the same honour from this year’s One World International Human Rights Documentary Festival.

The film shows Brügger back in Africa and on the trail of the plotters and murderers of UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961. Variety’s Owen Glieberman described it as "a singular experience that counts as one of the most honestly disturbing and provocative nonfiction films in years".

Talking About Trees

Talking About Trees, directed by Suhaib Gasmalbari, is a chronicle of the demise of Sudanese cinema and the group of retired directors hoping to revive their country’s love of film.

The film won the Glasshutte Prize for Best Documentary and the Panorama Audience Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival before winning the Fipresci Prize and Jury Prize at the Istanbul International Film Festival in April this year.

My Friend Fela

Directed by Brazilian director Joel Zito Araújo, My Friend Fela had its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam before going on to win the Paul Robeson Award for Best Film from the Diaspora at Burkina Faso’s FESPACO.

It explores the life of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti from the perspective of his friend Carlos Moore. Locating Fela’s story firmly within the Black Consciousness movement, the film follows him from his first travels to London and New York — where he was confronted with his own African identity for the first time — to musical talents, and his eventual death in 1997. 

The State Against Mandela and the Others

From French directors Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte, The State Against Mandela and the Others was in the official selection at this year’s Cannes and was nominated for a Cesar, receiving acclaim for its take on the apartheid era’s pivotal Rivonia trial.

Drawing on the previously inaccessible 256 hours of audio recordings, the directing duo both aim to bring the archive clips alive using stylized hand-drawn visuals by the Dutch graphic artist Oerd van Cuijlenborg.

A selection of new South African films will also be screening at this year’s Encounters:

Dying for Gold

Following its North American premiere at Hot Docs in May, Dying for Gold, from directors Catherine Meyburgh and Richard Pakleppa, is a documentary centred around South Africa’s biggest class-action lawsuit, against the mining industry.

Featuring footage from the colonial and apartheid eras, along with interviews with gold miners whose lives have been decimated by silicosis and tuberculosis, the film aims to show how Southern Africa’s indigenous societies were destroyed in order to mine gold.

Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War

Susan Scott’s Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War made headlines as South Africa’s 'breakout documentary of the year' after winning over 17 international awards.

The film follows two female filmmakers who travel the African bush and South East Asia in search of answers to the diminishing rhino population. Most recently, the film won the Best of Festival Award as well as Best Independent or Feature Film at the International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF) in April.

Americans, Mongrels & Funky Junkies — the Life of Jo Menell

Paul Yule’s Americans, Mongrels & Funky Junkies — the Life of Jo Menell is a tribute to a South African whose life of exile and global activism has aligned with many of the moments and figures of the last 60 years.

Village Versus Empire

Village Versus Empire, by Emmy-winning South African director Mark J Kaplan is set on Jeju Island, off the coast of the Korean Peninsula.

The film focuses on the ecology and ancient shamanistic traditions, which (according to Kaplan) are being devastated by the construction of a United States base. The film also explores the interconnectedness of past, present and future and the universal relevance of a village resisting an empire.

Zulu Return

Zulu Return is the debut from director Gugulethu. The documentary follows Afrika Bambaataa’s journey to South Africa as he faces the effects of abuse allegations against him in his own life.

Encounters has additionally announced a 'Swiss focus', in association with Swiss Films and the Embassy of Switzerland in South Africa Consulate General of Switzerland in Cape Town. This will include:
  • #Female Pleasure — Barbara Miller’s award-winning examination of the obstacles that stand in the way of female sexuality in the 21st century.
  • Emmanuelle Antille’s A Bright Light: Karen and the Process — a journey in the footsteps of Karen Dalton, forgotten muse of the 60's and
  • Chris the Swiss — director Anja Kofmel’s feature debut where she revisits the wildlife and death of her war reporter cousin with a blend of animation and documentary.
Also in the line-up for this year's festival of non-fiction films are Beyond the Frontlines: Resistance and Resilience in Palestine, a film from French author and feminist Alexandra Dols, and German documentarian Karin Jurschick’s Playing God, which follows the struggle of the US attorney who, since 9/11, has been charged with the  task of assigning a Dollar value to life when compensating victims of America’s events.

Additionally, Lesotho filmmaker Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s Mother, I Am Suffocating: This Is My Last Film About You, Jacqueline Gozland’s tribute to the Algerian cinematheque, My Story Is Not Written Yet; and the premiere of Soweto-born filmmaker Fanny Tsimong’s My Culture My Music.

Encounters will take place in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Venue details can be found below:


Ster Kinekor
Cinema Nouveau Rosebank
The Bioscope Independent Cinema

Cape Town 

The Labia Theatre
Bertha Movie House Isivivana Centre, Khayelitsha
Bertha Bioscope at the Tshisimani Centre, Mowbray.

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