Encounters Film Festival: The inside scoop

Head of Encounters Programming Andreas Späth gives us the lowdown on the good, the great and the informative.

Andreas Späth sat down with us to chat about the exciting line-up at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, starting Thursday 7 June 2012. This three week documentary extravaganza features 51 painstakingly chosen international and local films, Q&A sessions, discussion panels and even tutorials.

CPTMag: This is the 14th year of the Encounters Film Festival, does it promise to be better than previous years?

AS: What makes it special is a number of things; we’ve got a range of topics. If you look at the program, we’ve got sports, really serious issues, history, lots of music and art. The nice thing is we’ve got something for everybody. Sometimes you find festival programs and it’s either a hit or a miss. I hope that this program will appeal to everybody at some level.

CPTMag: Your team sifted through almost 500 entries. How do you decide what makes an acceptable film and how do you ensure there’s a degree of local representation?

AS: The break down is pretty much even; there are a few more international films than local ones, and we’ve got some really good international films, big films; two of which are Oscar-nominated. We have a responsibility to promote SA content, to help SA filmmakers and be platform for the local industry. We don’t really have a quota, but we do concentrate on looking for the best we can source locally.

CPTMag: The list of films this year has grown from last year’s; do you think the need for social commentary is growing and why is it so important to have a festival dedicated to documentaries?

AS: As a genre, documentaries are really exploding. It’s amazing what’s out there and it’s incredible to find out about the stories that are being told. They don’t really get a showing in mainstream cinemas, unless they feature Al Gore. Documentaries have a role to play. They tell important stories, and they give you more background to short news stories that you may have had some interest in. The reason why they’re not in mainstream cinemas is because people don’t relate to watching documentaries, and one of the aims of Encounters is to create a culture of watching documentaries - to build a base of people who are keen to watch them.

CPTMag: How does the partnership with Al Jazeera influence this year’s festival?

AS: Al Jazeera has made a substantial contribution to the festival. They’ve started and are getting quite big into African documentaries on Al Jazeera English. The films that are in their showcase, with the exception of “Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark”, are all about African stories.

They’re sending some commissioning editors and then we’re having a pitching session for local industry where they get to pitch ideas to Al Jazeera.

We hope this is the beginning of a longer relationship.

Top five documentaries to watch:
While Andreas could have waxed lyrical about the outstanding quality of each individual film,  we cheekily insisted he give us five high-quality recommendations:

    • Saving Rhino Phila – Rhino poaching is a topic that is close to South African hearts, and this film tackles rhino Phila’s ordeal with poachers, crime syndicates and a toothless legislation.


    • Saying Goodbye – Sean Davidson, a UWC biotechnology professor and loving son, heeded his mother’s call for mercy in helping her end her painful battle with cancer. This heart-wrenching film follows his emotional journey as he returns to New Zealand alone, to face charges of attempted murder.


    • The African Cypher – Dance to the rhythm of the beat as you journey along with the dance crews from the Cape Flats and Mamelodi as they prepare battle it out on the dance floor at the Red Bull Beat Battle.


    • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory – The 20-year court case of the West Memphis Three, who were tried and convicted as teenagers for the murder of three boys in 1993, highlight the narrow-mindedness of a small town and the demoralising effects of a malfunctioning justice system.


    • One Day After Peace –South African born Robi Dameli, lost her son when he was shot dead by Thaer Hamad outside a police outpost in the West Bank in Israel in March 2002. Grieving, she returns to her native country, a place well-acquainted with painful truths and the reconciliation that follows, to try and understand the idea of forgiveness.



Find out more about the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival

by Meagan Hamman
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