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The Last Encounters Documentary Film Festival?


The Encounters Documentary Film Festival has been running for 20 years. During this time the festival has become a much-anticipated calendar event, and the premiere documentary festival in Africa. With many environmental causes, on-going poaching and a civil war-ravaged continent, Africa seems to be at the forefront of documentary film-making with many filmmakers using Africa as the destination of choice. While the Encounters Documentary Film Festival has been running for two decades, it's at a critical turning point in terms of funding.

 

With many sponsors reducing their sponsorship, they have become more reliant on their major sponsors such as the National Film and Video Foundation. Unfortunately, at the eleventh hour, actually on the opening night of the festival, their funding was cut. Anticipating this reluctance from the NFVF, they started a crowdfunding project under the hashtag #HelpKeepEncountersAlive to raise R700,000 in order to sustain the festival. The festival went ahead even though the goal wasn't achieved, making it even more important that they find a new flagship sponsor if its to continue in 2019.

Renowned for featuring world-class documentaries and serving as an important showcase for documentary filmmakers, it will be a travesty for the Encounters Documentary Film Festival to make 2018 its last year. Encouraging young filmmakers, inspiring the next generation of documentary filmmakers and creating jobs around the event, it is important that this festival continue. Sadly, in a tough economic environment it's becoming more and more difficult to lure advertisers to get involved with these kinds of annual projects.

While international funding institutions certainly make things easier, it seems odd that the Encounters Documentary Film Festival hasn't been able to garner more worldwide support. A blossoming film industry, the subject of many documentaries, becoming a popular destination for film-making, the obvious benefits of the exchange rate and being able to have an active influence and control over the showcase, it seems strange that no one has taken an active interest in rescuing the renowned South African film festival.

Trying to ramp up that kind of branding and reputation isn't easy, which would make any successor sluggish in terms of its drive to create something similar, making it seem like a lost opportunity for a bigger entity not to get involved. Appealing to a key figure like Leonardo DiCaprio, as a strong proponent of documentary films, having been instrumental in The 11th Hour and Before the Flood, it wouldn't take much terms of investment when you work it back into Rands. Add your support behind Spling's tweet or begin your own campaign to get the message heard.

This year's festival featured a myriad of documentary features and short films... here are two.

The Deminer follows a Kurdish Colonel who made it his life's mission to save lives by defusing mines and bombs in the city of Mosul, Iraq. Working on behalf of the U.S. Army, this brave man could have been the inspiration for Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker in the relentless manner he carried out his work. A family man of eight children, his matter of fact style is next level in terms of confidence. Known as "Crazy Fahkir" by his co-workers, and becoming a national icon of sorts, the man's altruistic efforts are inspiring,and his family's interviews demonstrate that while he was constantly in the field, he was well-loved.

Taking a fly-on-the-wall cinéma vérité style documentary footage we get a unique perspective and thrilling account of the man's life going into very dangerous terrain and seeing him disarm bombs and mines using nothing but a simple knife and a pair of clippers. Taking a camera behind-the-scenes, we get a first hand account of a true hero. Even after facing near-fatal explosions and having a target on his back, Colonel Fahkir went on... The Deminer ensures that his story will endure.

Then, following the rags-to-riches success story of Trevor Noah, Kill or Die, a low-budget local doccie, follows the journey of several local comedians from all walks of life. The title references the need for comedians to dominate the stage, establishing a great rapport with the audience or suffering the humiliation of feigned laughter and the possibility of being booed off stage. Focusing on the trajectory of several comedians, most in the early stages of their career, this fly-on-the-wall documentary goes behind-the-scenes to get the inside story of what it takes.

Talent and hard work are the cornerstones of the profession, and this documentary gets to grips with the rigours and ability of comedians to pick themselves up. Taking the leap of faith and moving from traditional career paths onto stand-up stages is no easy feat, requires great self belief and is easier said than done. Yet somehow each of these comedians is able to rise above their circumstances coming from very humble backgrounds to the limelight where they're able to shine. Centring predominantly around a charming and cocky comedian with a bright future ahead of him, we see a star in the making, who seems ready to command his own show. Then, following a rising star female comedian, we discover a woman with fresh challenges. Another comedian who uses a puppet as part of his show, finds himself in South Africa turning his street smarts into comic agility, while another up-and-coming comedian discovers it's a lot tougher to get noticed, taking a few knocks along the way.

With incredible international and local documentaries featuring at the Encounters Documentary Film Festival, it's quite tragic that there's a strong chance they won't get the same platform in 2019... unless we do something about it.