Filmmaker Michal Weitz’s absorbing film BLUE BOX has all the elements for debate, controversy and angst as she delves into the diaries of her long-revered great grandfather Joseph Weitz, hailed as one of the heroic pioneers of Israel – now a difficult topic of discussion.
Turkish director Volkan Üce’s ALL-IN, sees two eager, yet different, young men in their new jobs at a lavish, all-inclusive hotel on the Turkish Riviera, where Western tourists and all they stand for are starkly juxtaposed with the local staff. This is an engaging and insightful film of contrasts that puts the hard-working resort staff at the centre of the story.
The Romanian film COLLECTIVE, directed by Alexander Nanau, is a riveting, highly acclaimed and much talked-about Oscar-nominated documentary that follows a crack team of investigators at the Gazeta Sporturilor newspaper as they try to uncover a vast healthcare fraud that enriched moguls and politicians and led to the deaths of innocent citizens in a nightclub fire in Budapest in 2015.
WRITING WITH FIRE is a debut film by directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, showing another aspect of the role responsible journalism has to play in the modern world, as we follow the brave journalists of India’s only women-run newspaper. The film focuses on three women reporters amongst the group, who are of the Dalit community, regarded as part of the ‘lower caste’ and characterised as ‘untouchable’. Unflinchingly, these women reporters investigate a brutal rape case and also cover the country’s national elections and militant religious movements.
When the city of Wuhan in China locked down at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was nearly impossible to get a clear sense of what was happening. Director Yung Chang and his team managed to document life at the epicentre, including a couple having a baby, quarantined families in a Byzantine shelter, dedicated medical workers and a psychologist facing her own family crisis while helping patients. In a time when the world needs greater cross-cultural understanding, WUHAN WUHAN is an invaluable depiction of a metropolis joining together to overcome a crisis – a real eye-opener.
Filmmaker Hogir Hirori, who wrote and directed THE DEMINER, which was screened at Encounters a few years back, brings us SABAYA – a gripping, harrowing and superb documentary. The film centres on Mahmud Ziyad and a small band of volunteers armed with only a mobile phone and a gun, who risk their lives to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS as Sabaya – the term used for individuals abducted and forced into sexual slavery – in the most dangerous border camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria.
Something a little less gut-wrenching and a lot more mellow is offered in MAX RICHTER’S SLEEP, directed by Zimbabwean born, South African raised, Emmy-Nominated, Natalie Johns. This is a gentle lullaby of a documentary that explores the composer’s eight-hour-plus experimental 2015 composition based on sleep cycles. The documentary studies the genesis of the complex piece, as well as the relationship that his fans have developed with it after spending the night under the stars while Max and company performed it live. The film is a spell-binding experience.
Encounters partners with the Embassy of Switzerland in South Africa and Swiss Films and annually presents the Swiss Focus as part of our film programme. This year we are proud to screen four Swiss co-productions.
BURNING MEMEORIES is a most moving documentary in which veteran filmmaker Alice Schmid comes to terms with being a victim of sexual abuse at the age of 16, an event that she has managed to erase entirely from her memory until recently.
In Thomas Imbach’s NEMESIS, the director chronicles the destruction of an abandoned train station in Zurich and the construction of a new prison and police centre in its place. It includes heartbreaking testimonies from prisoners awaiting deportation and explores how we deal with the erasure of history and, in this case, replace it with state security.
Nick Brandestini’s SAPELO is both a portrait of a community and an intimate character study, while it tells the story of the Bailey dynasty, from steely matriarch Cornelia to young JerMarkest and Johnathan, living on the unique American island of Sapelo.
Finally, WATCH OVER ME, by Farida Pacha, is masterfully made and chronicles the day-to-day experiences of a palliative care team in India who visit terminally ill cancer patients to help them come to terms with the inevitability of death. Through a combination of deeply empathetic filmmaking and careful, patient observation, the film delicately conveys the experiences of the dying and their families, as well as acknowledging the stoic caregivers.
Encounters South African International Documentary Festival takes place online and at the Bioscope in JHB from 10 to 20 June. Ticket prices for this year’s online edition are R60 per Single Feature Ticket, R500 for an Unlimited Festival Pass, R70 for Bioscope JHB only and All Shorts are FREE.
The 23rd Encounters South African International Documentary Festival is funded by: The National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP), City of Cape Town, Wesgro, Gauteng Film Commission, Goethe-Institut, Daleglen Properties
Film Sponsors & Partners: Consulate General of Switzerland in Cape Town, SWISS Films, IFAS – The French Institute of South Africa, DOK.fest Munich, Heinrich Böll Foundation
Media Partner: Daily Maverick
Festival Partners: DocA – Documentary Africa, The Durban International Film Festival, Documentary Filmmakers Association, UCT Centre for Film & Media Studies, University of the Western Cape, South African Guild of Editors, Refinery