Following the announcement of the first international titles for this year’s 21st Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, the first South African and African films are as compelling as their global counterparts. From the vivid specifics of underground Cape Town in the 1960’s and 70’s to the influence of Frantz Fanon on African thought, exploring heritage through dance to the ironic rigours required when raising money for a movie in the hermetic world of the film festival circuit, all the films speak cinematically about highly charged issues for South African audiences.  

Two of the films highlight ‘forbidden’ Cape Town during the height of Apartheid and resistance in the 1960s and 70s.  BILLY MONK : A SHOT IN THE DARK, (World Premiere) sees fine artist, archivist and filmmaker Craig Cameron-Mackintosh pay tribute to small-time crook, drifter and gifted photographer, Billy Monk. This essential film explores underground life in the Mother City’s dockside nightclub ‘The Catacombs’ while Billy was a bouncer. In between keeping order, he took photographs of the clientele and his non-judgmental approach gave birth to an archive of stunning images of visiting sailors, goodtime girls, transvestites, musicians and bar regulars. His access to this cross-section of society allowed him to photograph scenes of uncensored joy, passion and debauchery not often associated with apartheid-era South Africa. Various people, including his son, David Monk, and a number of well-known photographers (David Goldblatt, Gavin Furlonger, Jac de Villiers) add their observations and it is pulled together by journalist Lin Sampson reading from her book “Now you’ve gone ‘n killed me”. Sampson wrote of Monk, “He was killed before he knew he was famous”. He was shot in 1982 en route to his first exhibition at the Market Theatre Gallery.

Between 1972 and 1979 Cape Town saw a theatre challenge the State and present the most innovative and challenging works one could see in Apartheid South Africa.  THE SPACE: THEATRE OF SURVIVAL (World Premiere) is a definitive record from filmmakers Mark Street and Dan Poole of the theatre, its productions, its people and the times they were reacting to. Situated in Long Street in Cape Town, it was the brainchild of photographer Brian Astbury who, together with Yvonne Bryceland and Athol Fugard, laid the cornerstone of a South African theatre tradition. In the film Astbury and Fugard, as well as a range of actors, producers and others from Pieter-Dirk Uys to John Kani to Richard E.Grant, recall the origins of the theatre, the plays it presented and the theatrical mission to oppose the apartheid government in all its manifestations. 

FANON: YESTERDAY, TODAY, this is a significant documentary about the legacy of Martiniquan intellectual Frantz Fanon. Through the testimonies of his comrades and the people who knew him, Algerian director Hassane Mezine explores Fanon’s eventful life    and extraordinary struggles. The Caribbean intellectual died in 1961 yet the impact of his work is still tremendous on social movements and subaltern groups. The documentary examines the relevance of Fanonian thought in the context of contemporary revolts in South Africa, Palestine, Algeria, and the United States.

THE SOUND OF MASKS, directed and produced by Sara Gouveia, is a beautifully moving ode to the cultures of Mozambique told primarily through dance and music. Mapiko is a traditional, masked dance performed exclusively by the male members of the Makonde community in northern Mozambique. During the War of Independence, this dance became a tool to challenge colonization. His Mapiko dancing skills gave Atanásio Nyusi the opportunity to become a professional dancer and avoid fighting in the civil war that followed independence. In relating his life story, the now legendary dancer also leads us through the history of Mozambique. Blending observational footage, archive material and contemporary dance sequences, this captivating film crosses the threshold between real and imaginary. After its World Premiere at IDFA in November 2018, the film had its African Premiere at the Marrakech International Film Festival in December and will screen at Encounters immediately after its North American Premiere at Hot Docs this May.  

This year’s Encounters will see Dali Tambo’s tribute to his late father OLIVER TAMBO – THE JEWEL IN OUR CROWN. Produced by Kamscilla Naidoo the informative, celebratory film tells his story against the backdrop of a century that spanned two world wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, the independence of various African countries, southern African border wars, the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of Apartheid in 1994. An unconventional biopic, it plays as a series of milestones in the liberation history of South Africa, and links to the man who influenced each one of them despite never setting foot inside his country for thirty years.

The World Premiere of JOZI GOLD is a story of wealth, greed and poisonous mountains. Johannesburg has produced a third of all the gold in the world. Now the gold is running out, the mines are falling apart and toxic waste turns water into poison. Former Jehovah’s Witness Mariette Liefferink is on a mission to force the mine bosses to clean up. The film is by Fredrik Gertten and Sylvia Vollenhoven based on an original story by Adam Welz.

Fresh from a controversial screening at this year’s Berlin Film Festival FILM FESTIVAL FILM is the most mischievous film in this year’s programme.  Shot at 2018’s Durban International Film Festival with a prankster’s sense of high jinks and minimal resources pooled together by its contributors, the film by Mpumelelo Mcata and Perivi Katjavivi tells the story of Fanon (played by “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” star, Lindiwe Matshikiza) a black female filmmaker beset by her demons ten floors up in an ocean-side hotel, during the hermetically-sealed weirdness that is the world of a film festival. Blurring reality and fiction only helps deepen its roguish questioning of the film business, in this sharply made, much-needed exploration of how one tries to get movies made. 

Encounters is made possible by the support of Bertha Foundation, City of Cape Town, WESGRO, Consulate General of Switzerland, Swiss Films, IFAS – The French Institute of South Africa, DOK.fest Munich, Goethe Institut, HCI Foundation, Refinery, Documentary Filmmakers Association, UCT Centre for Film & Media Studies, South African Guild of Editors, City Varsity, Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking, Labia, Ster Kinekor Cinema Nouveau, The Bioscope, Bertha Movie House, Protea Hotel Fire & Ice.