Encounters South African International Documentary Festival turns 20

Whispering Truth To Power is the opening film at Encounters 2018

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival. The very first edition of the festival successfully ran with just 24 films.

Two decades and many stories later, this prestigious festival receives over a thousand film entries each year from across the globe, and hosts world-renowned industry speakers as well as hoards of emerging and renowned filmmakers who come together each year to hone their skills, tackle relevant issues and most importantly share the stories that are currently shaping our reality.

Reginald ‘Reggie’ Khanzi is this year’s guest festival director. A former director of the Apollo Film Festival in Victoria West in the Northern Cape, Khanzi currently holds the title of project director at the Apollo Development Association.

Encounters has a long, successful history with Apollo, having assisted Khanzi and his team with the programming and planning of previous editions. After a seven-year stint in government managing events, Khanzi is once again working in the film festival world and intends on improving the Apollo with the experience he will gain while serving as guest festival director for Encounters this year.

Khanzi expands: “They [Encounters] have a 20-year track record of providing opportunities for people like me, look what they have done for the status and production of documentary in this country; they’ve worked with four different broadcasters, securing commissions for local filmmakers, promoting their work and their international reputation! We have five international guests who are flying themselves here, paying for themselves nogal, because they want to be here at Encounters! I’ll leave here with a wealth of information, and I’ll have had the opportunity to connect with ‘new’ filmmakers and reconnect with filmmakers that I met all those years ago at the Apollo.”

Khanzi says that he started working on this year’s Encounters South African International Documentary Festival in April and has so far viewed countless film entries from local and international filmmakers for the 2018 edition.

“A long-list had been drawn up, and I’ve watched about 100 films, sat in meetings discussing the merits of each, devising a wide-ranging programme looking for tenderness, laughter, sadness, greatness, compassion, intrigue, our current affairs, our history, and a reasonable spread of films from around the world. It’s been hard – some films I really wanted we could not afford, as we’re working on a shoe-string budget, and we had to pass them up. I’ll say it again; it’s sad that Encounters does not have the support it deserves. I hope that it will not be as hard for the Apollo,” he says.


For the 2018 edition, Khanzi and his team have deliberately selected and scheduled more films made by women, as well as more films about women with ‘The Power of Womanhood’ as this year’s focused theme. This spotlight on women’s issues is driven by the global #metoo campaign, as well as by the need to tackle the issue of male-dominance in the film industry. Over half of the 40 films selected are by female directors, the selected films also focus on women who have made an indelible mark on history. Notable films in the 2018 line-up include:

The HotDocs Special Jury winner, Whispering Truth to Power, by Shameela Seedat, which chronicles Thuli Madonsela’s final year as our Public Protector.

Xoliswa Sithole’s Standing On Their Shoulders is a powerful relook at the 1956 Women’s March and what it means for women today.

Sisters of the Wilderness, directed by Karin Slater, focuses on the cultural and spiritual journey of five Zulu women who explore the bush for the first time.

In the South African shorts section Hannah Rafkin and Meg Robbins’ In Stitches, as well as Suzanne Moody’s Kill or Die, both tickle the funny bone while raising two very poignant issues – that of vernacular stand-up and the struggles of comedians.


With an impressive 70 titles, 43 features and nine world premieres; this year will see seven local filmmakers have their productions screened on the Encounters’ stage for the first time. These world premieres include Michael Cross’s The Fun’s not Over: The James Phillip’s Story; Freedom isn’t free: The Freedom Charter Today by Martin Jansen; Pluck: A film not just about Chicken by Joëlle Chesselet and Lloyd Ross; Rian Hendricks’s Ramothopo: The Centenarian; Sisters of the Wilderness directed by Karin Slater; Paul Myburgh’s The Story of Little Foot; and When Babies Don’t Come by Molatelo Mainetje.

Survivors, a film set in Sierra Leone, which tells the extraordinary account of a community’s response to the Ebola outbreak, will also be having its much-anticipated world premiere at Encounters 2018.


While 20 years is an exceptional milestone for the festival, a greater milestone is the centenary of the father of our nation – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. “We are pleased to honour uTata by screening the Oscar-nominated Mandela by Jo Mennel and Angus Gibson. It focuses on Mandela’s early education, personal relationships and the activism which led to his 27-year imprisonment for sabotage. Our guest, Sir Nick Stadlen will present Life is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes which celebrates the robust and intricate defence mounted by Bram Fischer and George Bizos,” Khanzi shares.

As always, several workshops and masterclasses will also take place during the course of the festival.

The HCI Foundation and the City of Cape Town will be partnering in a project to provide transport and tickets for previously disadvantaged individuals, organisations and students. Bertha Movie House at the Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha has been a long-standing partner of Encounters and will continue to provide free screenings at the centre as well as local transport to and from the screenings.

“I commend Encounters for the great work they have done over the years to reach this milestone, still standing and pushing hard. I can only imagine the number of challenges the festival has been through, I am really excited to be part of the team at this juncture and say to all the funders, the board, filmmakers and staff past and present – Halala Encounters Twenty!” Khanzi exclaims.

The 2018 Encounters South African International Documentary Festival takes place from 31 May to 10 June 2018 in Cape Town at The Labia Theatre, Cinema Nouveau V&A Waterfront, Bertha Movie House – Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha, The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg, as well as Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank.

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Gezzy S Sibisi
Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.


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