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Africa in focus: Five films to see at this year’s Encounters Festival

By Creative Feel

More than 50 features and documentaries from across the globe make up this year’s Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, taking place from 22 June to 2 July across Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The country’s formative documentary festival celebrates its 25th edition this year, continuing its innovative programming which includes live and virtual Q&As, Panel Discussions and Industry Events with acclaimed and emerging filmmakers discussing their latest films.

This year, Encounters takes ‘a View from Abroad and Within’ and holds a strong focus on films about Africa and the diaspora from both African and international filmmakers. Supplementing this focus is a robust Industry Programme designed to cast a lens on the thematic interests of African films at Encounters.

“There will be a deep dive into the craft and filmmaking process from the perspective of the filmmakers moderated by industry experts. The Industry Talks also dissect the economic, political, and social context that are impacting the filmmaking process for African filmmakers. These in-person and online sessions aim to provide knowledge-sharing and to engender collaborations within the continent, for the next generation to continue to produce authentic African stories.”

Mandisa Zitha, Encounters Festival Director

Ahead of the 2023 festival, the Creative Feel team has put together a few of the Africa-focussed films that we’re most looking forward to from this year’s programme, as well as their associated Q&As, workshops, and panel discussions.


South African filmmaker Milisuthando Bongela has been travelling the world with her film debut, the self-titled Milisuthando, and we can’t wait to see it in South Africa.  

In Milisuthando, Bongela is both director of the documentary and its central protagonist as she “blurs the lines between personal and historic, object and subject, and citizen and country.”

So far, the coming-of-age documentary exploring growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid has been nominated for a Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2023 San Francisco International Film Festival, Documentary Competition award at the 2023 Seattle International Film Festival, and a Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema – Documentary at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

On 24 June, Milisuthando will also form part of the AFRICA IN FOCUS programme at Cape Town’s Bertha House, through Money Can’t Talk, Yet It Can Make Stories: Exploring Dynamics of Funding for Documentaries in Africa which will explore funding opportunities and implications for documentary storytelling in Africa. RSVP here.

Theatre of Violence

Directed by Lukasz Konopa and Emil Langbelle, Theatre of Violence follows the true story of Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier recruited into the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda at the age of nine. Decades later, he became the first former child soldier to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

The documentary is the winner of the 2023 Hague Movies that Matter Festival’s Grand Jury Documentary Award for Best Documentary, and has been nominated for numerous other awards at international festivals this year so far.

As part of Encounters, Theatre of Violence will be coupled with a rigorous panel discussion on the complexities of international law and human rights in the context of historical and political conflict.

Taking place at Cape Town’s Labia Theatre on 27 June and Johannesburg’s Rosebank Ster Kinekor on 28 June, the panel is titled Pursuing Justice: Navigating the Complexities of International Law and Human Rights in Theatre of Violence and Investigating the Legitimacy of the ICC in Africa. The panel will also draw on South Africa’s experience with retributive and restorative justice to reflect on the meaning of accountability and the role of international law. On 29 June, the Goethe-Institut will be hosting a Masterclass with the filmmaker and producer. RSVP here.

A Story of Bones

A Story of Bones is a documentary with a simple but striking premise. The film centres around a burial ground of African slaves, discovered while assessing an airport development project in St Helena. The remote island, which has its nearest port in Moçâmedes in southern Angola, is economically reliant on the United Kingdom.

A Story of Bones investigates this complicated relationship by raising questions around the prioritisation of economic development over restitution. As the Festival itself observes: “A Story of Bones’ exploration of the contrast between whom and what we value and the history of colonial rule is a theme that resonates with South Africa’s ongoing struggle for social justice and reconciliation.”

The panel discussion A Story Of Bones: honouring legacies and confronting difficult histories in colonial contexts will be taking place at Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront on 28 June.


The relationships between poverty, addiction, and sexual violence, as well as their impacts on the lives of women in Bredasdorp, is highlighted in Julia Jaki’s Dorpie.

The documentary follows Lana O’Neill through her day-to-day work as a community worker in the small Western Cape Town. Partly a tribute to O’Neill, Dorpie documents her attempts and struggles at running a safe house in the wake of a series of rapes and murders of girls and women in the area.

On 1 July, at Johannesburg’s Goethe-Institut, Dorpie’s co-producer Antoinette Engel will be in attendance to share her perspective on the film and Jaki will share her experiences of making the film. From her portrayal of characters in Dorpie to the resourcefulness required to fund and create the film, as well as the associated challenges, Jaki will discuss the use of documentary film as a medium for social transformation. RSVP here.

Beyond the Light Barrier

Have you heard the story of the South African meteorologist and her extra-terrestrial lover? Beyond the Light Barrier documents the life of Elizabeth Klarer, a South African meteorologist who devoted herself to proving the existence of Akon, her lover from the planet Meton in the Proxima Centauri solar system.

Directed by Uga Carlini and narrated by John Kani, the film uses archival footage and materials, interviews with Klarer’s family and friends, and even includes insights from the late South African mystic, Credo Mutwa.

On 28 June at Cape Town’s Bertha House, there will be a workshop designed to provide filmmakers with practical skills and knowledge necessary for producing compelling documentaries. The session will focus on key aspects of documentary filmmaking, such as cinematography, sound design, interviewing techniques, the use of archive footage, post-production and editing, as demonstrated in the film. The film’s director, Carlini, will provide feedback and guidance to participants throughout the workshop as they explore the specific challenges and opportunities that were encountered. RSVP here.

View the full Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival programme here or read more about the line-up in Focussing on Africa’s view from abroad and within at the 25th Encounters Documentary Film Festival.

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