Review: Encounters Film Festival

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South Africa may not have a booming film industry to compare with Bollywood and Hollywood, but we are by no means in the woods when it comes to local talent. The annual Encounters Film Festival provides a platform for local and international filmmakers to showcase their work in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The festival focuses specifically on documentary films, and is the only South African distributor dedicated to showcasing documentaries to the South African public. This year cinema-goers in Cape Town and Johannesburg can enjoy 29 international and 22 South African films that were carefully selected from the 487 entries received. In an exciting partnership with Al Jazeera, a selection of investigative films by this award-winning international news channel will also be screened.

Some of the most eye-catching films include the harrowing ‘Saving Rhino Phila’ which tackles the scourge of rhino poaching, and the world premiere of ‘On the Edge’ a film that delves into the furtive war being waged on South Africa’s most vulnerable in inner city Johannesburg. Progress is the story of the rag tag local rugby team who beat the mighty Maties while Pina, a documentary of the extraordinary work of dance legend Pina Bausch is bound to sell out in 2D as well as 3D. There’s also a load of entrancing short films, such as Strong Bones which documents a grannies-only football club in Limpopo.

I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of ‘Saying Goodbye’; an unassuming documentary about an ordinary family and how saying goodbye had dire repercussions for them all. Producer and director Izette Mostert embarked on this film project after meeting Sean Davison, a UWC professor who had helped his mother end the misery induced by terminal cancer. Many South Africans followed the unfolding events in the media as Davison was arrested in New Zealand and sent to trial. Mostert’s film is an unpretentious and honest portrayal which, without getting involved in the debate over euthanasia, simply tells the story of an 85 year old woman saying goodbye to her children, her grandchildren and her friends. It also shows how her youngest son, Sean Davison, not only said goodbye to his mother when he assisted her at the end of her life, but he also to family and friends who did not agree with his actions. In 2011, when he returned to New Zealand for the trial and subsequent sentence of five months house arrest, he again had to say goodbye; this time to his wife and two boys who stayed behind in South Africa. The film is frank and intimate as it delves into a family’s torment.

The human element is highlighted by the juxtaposition of the emotional interviews with family and friends in the familiar confines of their homes against the footage of the trial in New Zealand which shows the cold and ceremonial interior of a court house and the objectively detached nature of justice. ‘Saying Goodbye’ gave me a strong taste for more high quality documentaries. I’m now eyeing up a number of documentaries by South African-born Jon Blair, and the Academy Award winning ‘Anne Frank Remembered’ is a definite must see. The international documentaries are equally thought-provoking and if you enjoy investigative journalism programmes, the documentaries by Al Jazeera promise great food for thought.

Andra le Roux-Kemp

The 14th Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival runs 7 – 24 June at various venues in Cape Town and Johannesburg. ‘Saying Goodbye’ screened at Nu Metro Cinema, V&A Waterfront on 8 June 2012, and will be screened at the Fugard on 17 June 2012 and again at Nu Metro V&A Waterfront on 23 June 2012.

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