Encounters of an informative kind

Religion, Rio de Janeiro, rape, rhythm, revolution and rebellion: and it’s all true. The ninth Encounters South African Documentary Festival begins on July 13 in Johannesburg and on July 20 in Cape Town, bringing with it a programme of 51 provocative, stimulating and engaging films.

The theme for this year’s festival is Heritage: Visions from our Past and Present, encompassing both the natural and the human. Aside from the films themselves, the festival includes debates, presentations, discussions and workshops that provide critical comment on both global and South African media landscapes.

The categories under which the documentaries are organised are South African films, Urban Explorers, African Focus, Jameson Environmental Focus and international films.

Making its world premiere in the South African film category is A Pair of Boots and a Bicycle, in which Vincent Moloi unearths the relatively unknown yet significant contribution of South Africa’s black soldiers to the Allies’ North African camp. Through the eyes of a soldier, Joe Maseko, the irony of the black soldiers’ situation is slowly and poignantly revealed. There is also a documentary by storyteller Lindiwe Nkutha (see below).

The films of the Urban Explorers category originated from the 2005 Encounters Documentary Laboratory, where six young female filmmakers were provided with training and production assistance. Karabo Lediga and Tamsin Anderson directed Black Sunday, a documentary on the formation of a new identity and community through a regular Sunday gathering of artists in Soweto that became a countercultural movement against poverty, violence and post-apartheid contradictions.

More cultural exploration occurs in the African Focus category, in the film Senegalese Women and Islam. As the dominant religion in Senegal, Islam dictates that the women wear a veil and practise sharia law. This documentary exposes the perceptions and attitudes affecting Muslim women in Senegal — with interviews ranging from devout Islamic women to relaxed party-goers.

On a more natural agenda, Manufactured Landscapes, within the Jameson Environment Focus, shows a photographer’s travels across the globe, investigating natural habitats that have been physically, chemically and biologically altered due to the relentless human pursuit of growth.

There are 26 films in the international film category, one of which being Sophia Fiennes’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. In this exhilarating documentary, eccentric Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek takes the audience on a journey of the greatest movies ever made, tackling Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Charlie Chaplin, The Matrix, Disney and many others.

This storyteller means business

Trained as an accountant and working as a business-development consultant, but unable to ignore life’s messages, Lindiwe Nkutha is a busy young woman.

Born in Soweto, she now lives in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, and most of her time is spent in Melville for vocational purposes. Just as her habitation is split, so is her existence as both an artist and a businessperson. Echoes of this tension can be found in her poem Rooted:

“what if you were a flower

and your roots were lodged

on that part of earth that

separates Israel from Palestine?

would you give your scent to Israel

your beauty to Palestine

or withhold both?”

In the past five years, Nkutha has spent most of her free time developing her skills in various media, including photography and videography, in order to indulge her narrative interests. She is an all-round storyteller: writing and self-publishing a novella, writing articles for popular magazines, exhibiting her photographs, and publishing her poetry and short stories in journals and anthologies.

Photographically, she has showcased two exhibitions with the help of Female Activation through Creative Empowerment. One was an exhibition called this way we bleed; the second, Jocasta’s Hairballs, was presented as a multimedia, polyphonous narrative, with characters drawn from different cultural and time-period archetypes.

Her fascination with culture is echoed in Muted Screams, a highly acclaimed short film she has directed. Using brief yet tortured images to explore the weight of religious and social guilt borne by gay and lesbian people, this intimate film questions homophobia within cultural facets of society. Described as “lyrically visual”, it was shown internationally at the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Tampa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in St Petersburg.

One of her latest achievements is Jo’burg Rising, a documentary making its world premiere at the Encounters festival. It is about a street vendor and a parking attendant — two men who are determined to live life in the vibrant cityscape of Johannesburg. Celebrating their tenacity, the documentary probes their internal and external worlds as it tries to explore the plausibility of Wally Serote’s poem City Johannesburg.

Nkutha is currently completing her first novel and working on her next documentary film.

Encounters is in Johannesburg at Nu Metro Hyde Park from July 13 to 22 and in Cape Town at Nu Metro V&A Waterfront from July 20 to August 5. All tickets cost R35 on site or from Computicket

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