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The Must-see Local and African Films at Encounters Documentary Festival

Image credit: ©Jabu Nadia Newman from the documentary "Inside Out"

Encounters South African International Documentary Festival is currently running until the 20th of June and we have had the pleasure of watching several of the films. With the variety of international and African productions, our focus was primarily on stories by female directors and narratives focused on the African continent.

Shot mostly in German "King Bansah and his Daughter" by Agnes Lisa Wegner follows the life of Chief Céphas Bansah of Hohoe, Ghana which consists of roughly 200 000 Ewe people. Bansah works as a full-time mechanic in his shop in Ludwigshafen, Germany, and fulfills his role as King of the district Hohoe, part-time and mostly virtually.

Whilst looking into the daily experiences of Bansah and his wife Gabriele in Ludwigshafen as well as their children, the film addresses bi-racial identity, racism, and nationalism. Bansah and his wife travel to Ghana with their daughter Katharina as the possibility of her becoming queen is a thread throughout the film. The most earnest part about the film is Bansah's commitment to uplifting and helping the Ewe community which he serves. His contributions carry the community forward and his sheer dedication to them is inspiring to observe.

To celebrate Pride Month, we have selected "I am Samuel" and "There's Power in the Collar". Although both are powerful in their idiosyncratic ways both come with trigger warnings for homophobic violence.

First set in countryside Kenya, "I am Samuel" directed by Peter Murimi is at times tenderly sweet, emotional, and yet powerful. It follows the journey of Samuel a Kenyan gay man in his quest for unfiltered self-expression and looks at the love story of Samuel and Alex, in a country where their love is criminalised. Samuel confronts the reality of being open to his father, a preacher at the local church. The film touches on love in its myriad forms - romantic love, family, friendship, and community.

"There's Power in The Collar" by Lodi Matsetela and Vincent Moloi looks at the political side of LGBTQ+ rights and was created during the court case of decriminalization of homosexuality in Botswana.

The film is quite uncomfortable at times, as it addresses intense subjects such as Christianity juxtaposed with patriarchy, colonization, and homophobia. Yet at the same emphasizes the value and power of faith. It follows Chantel, a 27-year-old lesbian who's both a theologian and a queer rights activist, as she attempts to start her journey to get ordained as a reverend in Botswana's religiously conservative and homophobic society. Alongside Chantel's story, it follows various queer stories, reinforcing the political fight for the human right of freedom of being.

In contrast to the aforementioned, Faya Dayi is an American-Ethiopian documentary by Jessica Beshir that explores the rituals of khat, Ethiopia's most lucrative crop, a leaf chewed for centuries for religious meditations.

Moody, dark and filmed in black and white, the film shows a city caught in a khat haze deconstructing a loose intergenerational narrative, where for elder harvesters, khat is both their daily bread and daily escape, and the youngsters are keen to escape its enveloping, addictive aura.

Encounters Festival has a wide variety of short films to choose from and one that stood out was "Inside Out" by Jabu Nadia Newman a film which she expressed was created initially to raise money for the Indoni Dance, Arts and Leadership Academy to carry on the important work they were doing. The film features the dancers from the Western Cape Dance Academy who poetically and masterfully display their passion, love, and enthusiasm for dance.

A notable mention is an upcoming film by Nthato Mokgata and Lebogang Rasethaba titled "MUTANT", a portrait of one of South Africa's most outspoken and controversial voices Isaac Mutant who is addressing political and cultural issues, the film's release is on the 18th of June.

Check out the documentary films at Encounters, in their wide selection of local and international productions as well as their various panel discussions delving deeper into the subjects until 20 June 2021.

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