Encounters 2023 opens with MilisuthandoThe 25th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival will take place from 22 June to 2 July 2023, and the opening film will be Milisuthando.

Fresh from its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the film looks both backwards and forwards, digging deep into the legacy of apartheid and meditating on the future of South Africa, through its unflinching willingness to examine both the current state of the country and of the filmmaker’s own complex identity, announcing the arrival of a fresh and exciting local filmmaker in director Milisuthando Bongela.

 Milisuthando Bongela

Born in 1985 in the then-Xhosa homeland Transkei, designed by the apartheid regime to belie a false sense of nationhood to the Black majority living there, Bongela’s homage to herself explores her journey of discovery, paralleled with the country’s transition to freedom. In 1994, when the apartheid government fell and democracy came to South Africa, nine-year-old Bongela left behind the only world she knew – which no longer existed – and moved with her family to begin a new chapter in an integrated South Africa.

Told through distinctly different chapters, each with an intention, tone and style of their own, the film deconstructs the documentary form even as it examines Bongela’s upbringing, memories and multifaceted sense of self. Boasting an impressive and extensive trove of archival footage artfully juxtaposed, the effect is almost surreal, at times almost bittersweetly comedic, almost melancholic, and deeply challenging.

A new filmmaking voice, not to be missed

Featuring interviews both old and new, smartly interpreted, old family footage from her comfortable and happy Transkei childhood home, as well as unflinching and painful contemporary conversations between herself, her family and her white producer, the film is one woman’s bold personal examination that speaks to a greater South African reckoning – in search of who we are and where we’ve come from. Raising questions more than offering answers, in a complex and conflicted country still processing its legacy of oppression, this is a bold, poetic statement of intent from a new filmmaking voice, not to be missed.

What: The 25th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival

Where and when: 22 June to 2 July 2023

The following cinemas will be screening the 2023 Encounters’ line-up:

Cape Town –  Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre, The Bertha House Mowbray, and The Bertha Movie House, Isivivana Community Centre, Khayelitsha

Johannesburg – Ster-Kinekor Rosebank Nouveau, The Bioscope Independent Cinema