Celebrating 25 years of the Encounters Documentary Film Festival

21 June 2023

It was 25 years ago when a group of like-minded persons gathered at the Cinema Noueau at the V&A Waterfront for the Encounters South African Documentary Film Festival.

It was known as the Encounters Swiss South African Documentary Film Festival.

With 21 documentaries on show in 1999, the festival only had one venue.

A quarter of a century later, Encounters is Africa’s leading international documentary festival and has presented over 1 500 films since its inception.

“Because it’s one of the few documentary festivals in the country and the continent, we have a well-known reputation locally and internationally. That keeps us going and sustains us,” says Encounters festival director Mandisa Zitha.

“Encounters collaborates across the board. We collaborate with NGOs, academia with legal companies. Partnership and collaboration is our sustainability keyword,” she adds.

For this year’s edition, the festival will showcase over 50 films in its almost two-week run.


Opening night offering Milisuthando is making its South Africa debut at the Encounters screening at Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront.

The film made its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It has feature in serval others in Europe and North America.

Milisuthando explores the legacy of apartheid and reflects on the future of South Africa, through its unflinching willingness to examine both the current state of the country and of the filmmaker’s own complex identity.

“I spent the last six months travelling the world at different festivals with the film. It is the most exciting, scary and beautiful thing to know that the film will come home and be introduced to audiences in Cape Town, Johannesburg and we will try to do other screenings around the country,” says director Milisuthando Bongela.

Born in the apartheid homeland Transkei, designed by the regime to belie a false sense of nationhood to the Black majority living there, Bongela’s homage to herself explores her journey of discovery, paralleled with the country’s transition to freedom.

“This is not your run of the mill documentary. It is going to require some embracing of the self to engage with. It is work that we have spent many years making with love and we hope that it is receieved with the love it has been imbued with in the making.”

Encounters 2023 programme

Milisuthando is part of an exciting 2023 Encounters’ line-up of films to be shown in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Running from 22 June to 2 July 2023, the festival will have screenings at the Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre, The Bertha House Mowbray, and The Bertha Movie House Isivivana Community Centre Khayelitsha in Cape Town.

In Johannesburg, Ster-Kinekor Rosebank Nouveau and The Bioscope Independent Cinema will also host screenings.

For the schedule and bookings: