May 112015

Africa’s top documentary festival announces first films

  • Oscar-winning Edward Snowden doc to open Encounters
  • Featuring festival winners from Cannes, SXSW, Toronto, and Venice
  • Featuring some of the most talked-about international documentaries, including Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
  • Award-winning South African documentaries from Francois Verster & Ryley Grunenwald, and world premières

CitizenFour, Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning documentary about whistleblower Edward Snowden, will open the 17th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, running from 4-14 June 2015 in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Poitras won the Pulitzer in 2014 for her role in helping Snowden expose the widespread abuses of America’s National Security Administration. CitizenFour is a first-person, fly-on-the-wall account of breaking the story of the decade, a real-life thriller unfolding minute-by-minute before our eyes.

Snowden disturbingly warns: “Know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep, site you visit, every subject line you type, are in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.”


Entertainment Weekly hailed Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck as the best film at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, while Rolling Stone called the authorised documentary of the Nirvana front man “the most intimate rock doc ever.”

The Salt of the Earth is an exquisite visual ode to Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado, co-directed by his son Juliano, and his friend, legendary film-maker Wim Wenders. Nominated for an Oscar in 2015, it also won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize in Cannes, among other honours.

The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing. Winner of 16 international awards, including in Venice and SXSW, this follow-up on post-genocide Indonesia trails an optometrist who confronts his brother’s murderers in a country that never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and where the murderers remain in power. Twitch hailed The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing as “perhaps the most important documentary project of the 21st century.”


Produced by South African Steven Markovitz and directed by Sudan’s Hajooj Kuka, Beats of the Antonov won the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award and was hailed as a “true standout” by Variety. A testimony to the power of music to hold a community together, The Beats of the Antonov is a window into the world of the resilient Sudanese farmers, herders and rebels of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions, who defiantly continue to tend their lands and celebrate their heritage in the face of government air raids.

The Dream of Shahrazad, the latest from Emmy winner Francois Verster, looks at the recent revolts in Egypt and Turkey through the lens of the famous story collection, The 1001 Nights. The Dream of Shahrazad is the first South African film to screen in the prestigious Masters programme of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

The Shore Break, directed by SAFTA-winner Ryley Grunenwald, is the story of two Pondo cousins from a close-knit rural community who have opposing plans for their homeland on South Africa’s West Coast. It’s a story of eco-tourism versus mining, and of the South African government versus the Pondo king and queen. The Shore Break screened in competition at IDFA and was named the Best Documentary at the 2015 International Environmental Film Festival (FIFE) in Paris.

Encounters will also host the world première of Wild Dog and Mrs Heart, the new film from festival favourite Riaan Hendricks, whose The Devil’s Lair opened Encounters two years ago. Wild Dog is a tender observational film about two inspectors from Animal Welfare Helderberg, who dare to care despite having to euthanise healthy dogs and cats every day.


Other films in the exciting Encounters line-up include :

  • the award-winning Approaching The Elephant, an observational film about the launch of the Teddy McArdle Free School in New Jersey, America, where classes are voluntary and rules created by democratic vote;
  • the award-winning Pixadores, about Brazilian graffiti artists from the slums who both fascinate and flummox the Berlin Biennale;
  • Coming of Age, Teboho Edkins’ picturesque ode to youth, set in the snow-capped Lesotho mountains;
  • Michael Madsen’s The Visit, a unique documentary about an event that has never taken place – humanity’s first encounter with intelligent life from space;
  • Stanley Nelson’s definitive Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution;
  • Between The Devil and The Deep, about the death of an alleged perlemoen smuggler in Hawston, near Hermanus;
  • The Siren of Faso Fani looks at the causes responsible for a textile factory closing in Burkina Faso, through the eyes of the community affected. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “tragic tale of globalization and its discontents, though one with the promise of a happy ending.”;
  • El Gort focuses on hay truck workers criss-crossing a post-revolutionary Tunisia where not enough has changed.


Africa’s most prestigious documentary festival runs from 4-14 June 2015 in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Keep an eye on for updates and the final programme.

Encounters is made possible through the support of the National Film and Video Foundation South Africa, Bertha Foundation, WESGRO and HCI Foundation.

Watch and embed the trailers:

Citizenfour –

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck –

The Salt of the Earth –

The Look of Silence –

The Shore Break –

The Dream of Shahrazad –

Wild Dog and Mrs Heart –

Beats of the Antonov –

Approaching the Elephant –

Pixadores –

Coming of Age –

The Visit –

Black Panthers –

Between the Devil and the Deep –

The Siren of Faso Fani –

El Gort –