Encounters Festival showcases authentic storytelling

1 July 2019

Festival Director Mandisa Ralane during opening night

When the curtain fell on the last day of the 21st edition of Encounters Documentary Festival which showcased 68 gripping documentaries, two hard-hitting films had made an enormous impact on the audience.

The first documentary Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War follows two female filmmakers who travel to the African bush and South-East Asia to investigate the killing of rhinos for their horns.

Bonné de Bod and Susan Scott spent four years probing the slaughter of rhinos on two continents. They found themselves going up against a network of poaching syndicates which took them from the Kruger National Park to Vietnam.

The film was voted the Best South African Film by audiences attending the festival.

The audience also chose The Silence of Others, a story of the victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship who seek justice against the perpetrators, as the Best International Documentary.

Susan Scott and Bonné de Bod speaking to Encounters audience during a Q&A session for Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War

The Festival

Having first provided a platform for documentary filmmakers in 1999, Encounters is one of the oldest film festivals in Africa.

It was held from 6 June until 16 June 2019 in two cities simultaneously with screenings at 8 cinemas. The festival also facilitated expert panel discussions and Q&As with 117 local and international filmmakers, practitioners and expert facilitators.

“The Festival was very successful, with numerous sold out screenings and packed cinemas, engaging Q&As and panel discussions with guest filmmakers and the subjects of the films, and a useful industry programme for the participants,” says Festival Director Mandisa Ralane.

The Cinema Nouveau at the V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre, Bertha Movie House in Khayelitsha and the  Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education in Mowbray played host to the Cape Town leg of the festival.

During the 2018 edition of the festival 10 803 people attended the film screenings, industry programme and networking events in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Audience figures for this year’s Encounters are not yet available but organisers have described the festival as a success with numerous sold out screenings and packed cinemas.

Industry and Training programmes

Filmmakers listening to Liezel Vermeulen at a Budgeting for Creatives workshop at Encounters Festival

For 20 years, Encounters has also been assisting budding filmmakers to get more familiar with the business side of filmmaking.

This year, it partnered with the City of Cape Town, Wesgro, Documentary Filmmakers Association and FNB to equip filmmakers with business skills and how they can take their films to a global stage.

Documentary filmmaker Yazeed Kamaldien who attended the first day of the industry programme described it as a “a bold day” in his filmmaking career.

“I’ve always wanted to register a company. The reason I registered my company is because as an independent filmmaker I need to apply for funding. At the screen-cubator I had direct access to the NFVF (National Film & Video Foundation) as well as the Department of Trade and Industry. I got some good leads on how to apply for funding,” Kamaldien says.

“On top of that, I also met with a bank (at the screen-cubator) and I also got some advice on how to go about working a company. Understanding the financials around personal versus business accounts. Overall it was an amazing day.”


Encounters remains one of only a few on the continent that is solely dedicated to documentary filmmaking but it has hit a few obstacles along the way including funding issues.

However, the festival’s resilience and relevance, as Ralane highlights, is rooted in its appeal to the general public.

“This has been achieved by careful and choice programming of documentaries that interest a wide range of audience demographics and encompasses a huge array of topics. The Festival ensure that it programmes films that are the most talked-about globally, and further elevates the status of local documentaries to the general public,” she adds.

The returning festival director also emphasised that collaboration with various partners. This includes local government, its agencies and film industry organisations has also played a huge role in the festival’s sustainability.

“Industry organisations partner with the Festival on the training and development programme. Consulates and Embassies enable the support of specific international films and the attendance of guests.

“The Festival is further supported by Film Practitioners and other Professionals who volunteer their skills and expertise on our programmes. Finally, huge support from the public ensures we have packed cinemas,” Ralane says.

The festival will return for its 22nd edition in 2020.