8 films to watch at the 2016 Encounters Documentary Festival

The Encounters Documentary Festival, taking place in Joburg and Cape Town this week, is packed with a rich miscellany of fascinating and insightful films telling stories that have been hidden from the public eye, challenge the status quo, and reveal the intricacies of modern life. They’re heartbreaking, inspiring and enrich the human spirit, reminding us what it means to be alive. Here are 8 we won’t miss.

The Silent Form 

This short is a collaboration between sculptor Dylan Lewis and filmmaker Simon Wood. The film explores the social pressure placed on artists to justify and explain the ‘meaning’ of their work through language, and captures the refusal to engage the verbal. As the visuals take us on a journey from the Namibian desert to the shorelines of Africa, we become privy to the constant tussle displayed between the artist and filmmaker attempting to make meaning through different visual grammars.

Mr Table Tennis 

For most, table tennis is a casual holiday hobby played once a year with friends and family. But for someone like Pedro Meyer, it was a game he practiced to perfect and a sport he played to win. Sadly, living under Apartheid meant that unlike his grandson Cody, he couldn’t achieve world domination and play tournaments on the international stage. Directed by Tina-Louise Smith, this documentary explores the tensions between two generations; a grandfather living vicariously through his grandson and a born-free torn between honouring his elders and living his own life.

Raving Iran

There’s an underground music scene in Tehran, where DJs Anoosh and Arash defy the Islamic regime, but not without the risk of imprisonment or at worst, death. They lead an intense lifestyle facing imminent danger selling music on the black market and partying till early morning hours. After receiving an offer to play at the world’s largest techno party in Europe, they’re faced with the tough decision of pursuing their passion or heading home and living in peril. 

The Black Christ 

In 1962, the soft spoken Ronald Harrison depicted the ANC leader Albert Luthuli as the crucified Christ causing a national furore. He had no idea of the outrage he would incite, nor the interrogation and torture he would endure by the brutal Apartheid police. This documentary reminds us of the power of art and its incredible ability to challenge oppressive regimes.

Chemsex

This Vice produced film reveals the murky underground party scene in London where in some gay communities, sex and drugs have become inseparable. Isolation, technology and drugs have created a scenario where there’s a desire for intimacy and immediate gratification but not without serious health risks.

Action Kommandant 

Directed by Nadine Cloete, this documentary tells the story of Ashely Kriel aka the “Che Guevara of Bonteheuwel” who at 20 years old was murdered by Apartheid police. Through conversations with family members, mentors and friends we see a family that was denied justice and how this resonates with many young activists today.

Pearl of Africa 

Cleopatra Kambugu is the first transgender women to openly share her transformation in a country that is intensely homophobic. Instead of focusing on her gender-reassignment surgery, the documentary explores her relationship with her husband, Nelson Kasaija, and paints an extraordinary portrait of love and what it means to be transgender.

Alive and Kicking

In South Africa, gogos are powerful figures in communities but they’re often burdened by infrastructural challenges which often means living with little support in their old age. In Limpopo, a social worker and soccer coach sought to bring together elderly women through sport to build friendships and create a stronger sense of community between the women.

Encounters runs from the 2-12 June. Visit their website for details.

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