4 Documentaries to check out at Encounters

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The Letter
The Letter


The Encounters SA International Documentary Festival is back this year, and this time it’s happening completely virtually and for free. Expand your mind with more than 50 contemporary local and international features and short documentaries screening at the festival. #Trending checks out four of them

The Letter

Directors: Maia Lekow and Christopher King


The Letter tells the story of Kenyan Karisa Kamango, who receives a strange letter one day that says one of his elders is accused of killing children in the family. He comes to realise the elder is his nyanya (grandmother) and so he heads home to his village, Kaloleni.

From the start, this film has a bone-chilling feel. Witchcraft remains one of those dark topics that even the most learned and analytical of African minds takes a moment of solemn thought over, before dismissing any notions that it doesn’t exist.

In severely poverty-stricken places, this school of thought is so prevalent that, at times, the most random of things will be blamed for being the spark of misfortune or a run of bad luck. Elderly people in Kenya are often blamed for bringing neighbourhoods bad luck, and the community writes letters to them, telling them they will be dealt with. Kamango’s grandmother was sent one of these.

The doccie feels like a movie, shedding light on something you may not be aware of in an immensely gripping way. The interviews play out like scenes as this mind-boggling story unfurls.

Kamango’s gran sheds a tear as she kneads bread dough and explains to her grandson how his uncles, whom she helped raise, are now under the impression that she’s the reason they have fallen on hard times.

This is a difficult watch – yet another snapshot from the disfunctional society of our continent. You may find yourself angered by this outlook seeming to be most prevalent in the poorest of places and how accusations of witchcraft were used to not only divide a people when settlers first landed on our shores, but even cause rifts in a family.

Besides that, as Kamango investigates these dangerous claims against his gran in a country where such things as homosexuality are still outlawed, this footage looks stunning.

It’s hard to look away even when Kamango’s gran, the “murderous witch” born in 1925, explains how they used the forest for medicine until a church was built in the area and how that changed her way of life.

The irony is that suspicions raised against her are cemented by a priest who visits the family compound and claims that there’s an old woman trying to derail the efforts of the family. A scene of her sowing seeds at a farm as she explains how the seeds of doubt were planted in the minds of her family is used subtly but poignantly.

The debate of ancestral praise versus white Jesus and the longest game of broken telephone the world has ever played, the Bible, are pitted against each other in such a way that the decision is yours to make as the viewer. Is Nyanya a witch, as her family suggests, or are we as black people destined to suffer from the crabs in a bucket syndrome forever? – Phumlani S Langa



Directors: Dugald MacDonald and Tatjana Meirelles


There are countless stories about everyday people who took a stand against apartheid in their own spaces, and Blindside tells the story of some of them.

The documentary re-emphasises that no single individual or organisation can be credited with the fall of apartheid, but small actions from South Africans from all walks of life played their part.

Blindside looks back at how a group of students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) used their privileged positions to take on the unjust system.

They interrupted a high-profile rugby match in protest against the National Party government, an action that was unheard of in South Africa during those days.

While protests at sporting events overseas against apartheid were common, it was unusual for them to happen within the borders of our country – let alone on a rugby field.

Jenefer Shute, who was a student leader at UCT, had to flee the country after masterminding the protest. Rugby was a favourite pastime of apartheid South Africa and it was blasphemous to do something like that.

The ruthless apartheid police were on to her and would not have hesitated to “eliminate” her, as they did with so many dissenters. She decided to flee to the US, where she lived away from her family for decades.

Shute and Dugald MacDonald – one of the rugby players who was on the field when Shute and her fellow activists invaded the pitch – were complete strangers, but their lives will forever be connected by that event.

The documentary sees them connect for the first time decades later to reflect on that moment.

MacDonald is a towering former rugby player, while Shute is a petite woman, yet she was brave enough to take on people who were literally and figuratively bigger than her.

During the filming of the documentary, she has a chance to meet the former policeman who had been after her. In his old age, he does not appear to be remorseful and is a reminder of the many people who remain apartheid sympathisers.

As the refrain goes, evil prevails when the good do nothing, and it must be remembered that, in your own way, you can make a difference. – Gomolemo Motshwane



Director: Enzo Slaghuis


This punchy and artful documentary is director Enzo Slaghuis’ love letter to kwaito. He recalls how he fell in love with Mdu Masilela’s Tsiki Tsiki (1994) and how going to a multiracial school later made him disown and look down on his love.

It’s quite a moving intro for a film that runs for only 45 minutes. He cleverly keeps cutting back to this scene of himself, sitting at a desk and reliving his entanglement with what he rightfully refers to as a national treasure.

The visual presentation of Slaghuis should be used to demonstrate how documentaries should be made. As informative as the Special Assignment approach is, you need more than a talking head and stock images. Slaghuis plays with format, making images vanish and reappear in a suave way as he brings in the legendary voice of a godfather of kwaito, Mandla “Spikiri” Mofokeng.

The brash editing is in your face, but it works. Legendary images from famous kwaito music videos are chopped and ripped. A cracking of the screen, like you’ve lost signal, shows an image of Nelson Mandela wearing the Bafana Bafana jersey in 1996, while the TKZee song Shibobo (1998), featuring Benni McCarthy, is faded in cleverly as a Zwai Bala interview is revealed.

My only issue is that I’m Still in Love with Kwaito is too short. It is always hard to toe the line in art, overcooking that beat or adding too many scenes, but when you’re firmly in the pocket and every scene is hitting ... don’t stop too soon. – Phumlani S Langa

A New Country

A New Country

Director: Sifiso Khanyile


Sifiso Khanyile explores whether the dream of South Africa as a rainbow nation is a fallacy and how the legacy of apartheid is still firmly in place.

Particularly over the past decade, this debate has been tackled and used either as an attempt to encourage the correction of the failures of the past, to score political points with the younger generation angered by the slow movement of progress promised to the generations before them or to continue to divide an already deeply unequal country.

South Africans desire a future better than the life they know and they continue to carry that hope, which is still being exploited more than two decades after democracy began.

Khanyile challenges the forced spirit of ubuntu that turns a blind eye to the spatial realities of poverty, with clear evidence that white people support the notion of a rainbow nation on the condition that it does not affect their generational prosperity. But these are thoughts, debates and possibly changeable conclusions that should be presented to the privileged – government and white South Africans – and not black audiences or thought leaders. We’re looping.

Truthfully, we’ve now become bogged down with what could have been done differently instead of working on creating a different society today and coming up with viable solutions to enforce the sharing of economic power. And for that we need a strong political leadership to dismantle white privilege.

What A New Country does offer are sober voices that understand the intentions used by the governing party in the 90s, while also firmly questioning the lack of progress and continued failures. Yes, the conversations are interesting, but don’t expect answers or a changed opinion, regardless of which side of the conditional rainbow nation you’re on. – Rhodé Marshall


The ticket booking system opens on Monday, August 17. Tickets are free, but booking is essential as online viewings are limited. Go to encounters.co.za for more


City Press has partnered with Encounters and Influence to give our readers an exclusive treat. Five readers can each win a night at the drive-in on August 19 and be the first to watch the premiere of the film with up to three friends or family members. We’ll also throw in a meal and a milkshake. See competition details here


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