The 10 best?.?.?. Doccies at Encounters

2013-06-02 10:00

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It’s that time of the year again when the celebration of socially conscious film making that is the Encounters International Documentary Festival takes place. Now in its 15th year, this instalment will focus strongly on political entertainment, socially engaged slices of life, female directors and women’s stories. Among the 30 films on the programme, there are several notable, award-winning international films. Charl Blignaut takes a look

1 The Devil’s Lair

The opening film at this year’s festival is a vérité-style actioner about a Cape Flats gangster. It’s the debut South African screening of a project that premiered at Hot Docs in Canada. Directed by Riaan Hendricks, The Devil’s Lair tells the story of Braam, an aging gangster, drug dealer and leader of The Nice Time Kids.

The film producers call it “a meditation on the nature of freedom and the chains that bind us from birth”. The trailer is pretty compelling.

The Mitchell’s Plain gangster alternates hanging out with a baby girl and instructing a gang member on how best to kill.

Venus and Serena

2 It’s taken a long time for the first official documentary about the sisters who changed the face of tennis forever.

That’s because the Williams sisters are notoriously private. This documentary, which was made by veteran female broadcasters and film makers, was not without controversy, as older sister Venus objected to the portrayal of her father.

The stock footage is amazing, showing the young girls being trained to conquer the world. And the drama is strong, set against the backdrop of the 2011/12 tennis season.

Incarcerated Knowledge

3 Dylan Valley is a young Capetonian film maker who is worth watching. Valley weaves increasingly complex stories around hip-hop, forging a history of Afrikaans emcees and the evolution of the language, which is, incidentally, now spoken by more non-white South Africans. Yes, there’s a wave of Cape gangster films emerging that is heading towards overkill.

But I have never before seen a documentary about a murderer released from prison who uses his rhymes to preach in church and build up a voice that leads him to the recording studio.

Queen of Versailles

4 Awards and rave reviews keep following Queen of Versailles, including a Sundance prize for best director.

It’s a brassy American story about a brassy American couple – the Siegels, a time-share king and his beauty queen wife – who start building the largest home in the US.

It has 30 bedrooms, 10 kitchens and costs $75?million. And then the financial meltdown hits and they are forced to stop construction. He refuses to sell his dream building in Las Vegas and she refuses to stop spending.

But somewhere, something has to give. The trailer made me laugh out loud.


5 Mayenzeke Baza’s extraordinary, controversial and useful new film on Xhosa circumcision is still not complete. That’s because Baza has been filming this year’s deadly initiation season before delivering the final product.

At Encounters, viewers will have to make do with the half-hour version he completed for international TV network Al Jazeera, which was one of the investors. Tracking initiates, Ndiyindoda argues that safer medical procedures need to be followed and that mothers deserve to be part of the discussion around the secretive male ritual.

It’s hard to watch the sections where an initiate discusses the realities of having his penis removed after infection, but it’s crucial we do.


6 The trailer for Karima Zoubir’s new film made me want to get my behind over to the cinema for her screenings. Set in Casablanca, Morocco, the documentary plays off a simple and powerful juxtaposition.

Mother and divorcée Khadija brings shame to her family by working nights as a videographer to support her son. Her family desperately wants her to marry again. What she videotapes are lavish, romantic, Muslim weddings. Heartbreaking scenes of domestic life are counterpointed by the spectacle of young marriages.

The Gatekeepers

7 An Oscar-nomination and a stunning set of interviews puts this Israeli documentary firmly on the must-see list this year. The Gatekeepers tells the inside story of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency that works to counter Palestinian “terrorism”. In 30 years, only six men have led the organisation, explains the trailer. All six of them appear in this documentary.

They have never been interviewed before. They tell of what motivated their strategies and what drove them to despair. Candid, chilling interviews are intercut with archive footage.


8 This Swedish documentary about immigrant brothers makes the list for its universal tale and astonishingly cinematic visuals.

Tora Mårtens tells the warts-and-all story of successful older brother Pablo, a medical student, who tries to get his younger brother Fernando off the drugs that have left him washed up on the streets of Stockholm.

Pablo takes his brother home to Colombia to withdraw. The process will tear the family apart and forge a new future for two young men trying to make it in the world.

Comrade President

9 It’s difficult to know whether Zimbabwean director Mosco Kamwendo’s feature on Samora Machel will succeed or not, but it’s an important story that still needs a lot of telling. Machel, who died in a still-unexplained plane crash in South Africa, was cut down in his prime.

His African Marxist vision, though, is being brought back to life in Comrade President. The film includes interviews with ex-wife Graça Machel, former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and opposition (Renamo) leader Afonso Dhlakama.

An Inconsolable Memory

10 Another film that’s difficult to gauge – there’s not even a trailer out yet – makes the list because of its director.

Aryan Kaganof is an experimental and political film maker who has helped shape dozens of other South African feature projects in various capacities.

I’m intrigued by his latest offering. It’s billed as “a contemplative piece about the Eoan Group, established in 1933 as a cultural and charity organisation in District Six”.

The cultural group promotes classical music and has developed new talent across racial lines. It’s a South African story that has never before been properly told.

»?The 15th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival runs from Thursday until June 16 at The Bioscope in Joburg, and in Cape Town at The Fugard Theatre and Nu Metro V&A Waterfront

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