Encounters Festival 2023 in Cape Town: 9 Stirring Documentary Films You Must See This Year

Encounters Festival

The Encounters Festival returns with another beefy line-up of thought-provoking and well-produced documentaries this year showing in selected cinemas and venues across Cape Town from 22 June to 2 July.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Africa’s premier documentary film festival, and the team have taken extra care to curate a memorable lineup of over feature films. Here are 9 titles to put on your radar and start booking right now.

Encounters Festival


Directed by Shaunak Sen | India/United States | 2022 | 94 min

Set in the highly polluted city of Delhi and filmed during a period of political violence, All That Breathes follows two brothers who run a homemade infirmary nursing black kites and other birds back to health. As teenage bodybuilders, the brothers learned about the structure of the human body and applied that knowledge to bandaging and healing the injured and sick birds that they found around the city, an activity they continue as adults while running a soap-dispenser business.

Beautifully filmed and rendered with great empathy, the film is a testament to the power of human care to repair the damage we have inflicted on nature, the environment, and the countless species with whom we share the planet. In recognising the value of all life in an increasingly imperilled world, this Oscar-nominated documentary provides a model of gentle hope and optimism.

When: Sunday, 25 June at 6:15pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town


Directed by Becky Hutner | United Kingdom | 2022 | 100min

The fashion industry has an enormous toll on the planet in terms of the resources it uses and its impact on the climate, contributing an estimated 10% of global emissions. Fashion Reimagined chronicles the attempt by designer Amy Powney of the cult fashion label Mother of Pearl to make her ranges completely sustainable, a task that was far more difficult than she initially imagined.

The film follows Hutner as she goes about the formidable task of redesigning her business and sourcing traceable materials that don’t contribute to the destruction of the planet or exploit people or animals. As a result, Powney’s collections are now completely sustainable and her work has had a major impact on the industry. But, as the film stresses, there is still a lot of work to be done. Fashion Reimagined is essential viewing for anyone who wears clothes.

When: Friday, 23 June at 8:45pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town


Directed by Steffi Niederzoll | Germany/France/Iran | 2023 | 97 min

This devastating documentary tells the story of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a female student in Tehran, who was hanged for murder after she acted in self-defence against a rapist who held an important position in Iranian society. Told over the seven years from 2007 to 2014, the film chronicles the attempts by Jabbari and her family to extract leniency from the state and the dead man’s family.

In Iran, murder is a ‘blood revenge’ crime and punishment is determined by the family of the victim. Reconstructed from secretly recorded videos provided by Jabbari’s family and the letters she wrote in prison, Seven Winters in Tehran is a powerful tribute to a woman who, in both her life and her death, became an enduring symbol of resistance and women’s rights throughout Iran and beyond.

When: Monday, 26 June at 7:30pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town

Encounters Festival


Directed by Lukasz Konopa & Emil Langbelle | Denmark/Germany/Uganda | 2022 | 106 min

Theatre of Violence is a gripping documentary that follows the life of Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier who was forcibly recruited into Joseph Kony’s army at just nine years old. Decades later, Ongwen became the first former child soldier to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. The film offers a thought-provoking perspective on the events from both the ICC’s perspective in The Hague and the Northern Uganda region, where restorative justice is practised.

It raises pertinent questions about the effectiveness of the ICC and whether it is a tool for recolonization by the West. Additionally, it addresses why the Ugandan government, led by Yoweri Museveni, has not been held accountable for their crimes. Through powerful storytelling and expert analysis, Theatre of Violence encourages viewers to confront difficult truths about the ongoing impact of war and conflict on individuals and societies and the limitations of the international justice system in addressing these issues.

When: Tuesday, 27 June at 6:15pm. There’s also a panel discussion taking place after the screening
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town


Directed by Lauren DeFilippo & Sam Soko | United States/Kenya | 2022 | 77 min

Free Money explores the impact of providing a modest basic income grant to villagers in rural Kenya, part of an economic experiment facilitated by the organisation Give Direct, which asks the simple question of what happens when we give money directly to people in need, rather than to charities that often provide services of questionable value and which usually take a large percentage of donations to cover their running costs.

One of many experiments with universal basic income grants currently taking place around the world, the impact seems to be largely positive, but it’s more complex than that, as this film shows, especially for those who don’t qualify to receive the income. More than a mere document of a social experiment, Free Money is a rich human story that reflects the role that money and wealth play in all our lives.

When: Wednesday, 28 June at 8:30pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town


Directed by Moses Bwayo & Christopher Sharp | Uganda/United Kingdom | 2022 | 114 min

This highly engaging film follows Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine – aka Robert Kyagulanyi – in his rise from the ghettos of Kampala to a seat in the Ugandan parliament, where he now constitutes the key opposition figure. However, democracy in Uganda exists only on paper, and current president Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for more than 30 years, has no plans to resign.

And so Bobi Wine incurs the full-blown wrath of the Ugandan state, which repeatedly kidnaps and tortures him – as well as his colleagues and supporters – as he travels around the country canvassing for votes. Fuelled by Wine’s infectious tunes, the film is both riveting and heartbreaking, echoing 2022’s Navalny in its portrait of a charismatic, popular and media-savvy opposition politician who takes on the leader of a monolithic and relentless fascist state.

When: Saturday, 1 July at 8:30pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town


Directed by Mstyslav Chernov | Ukraine/United States | 2023 | 94 min

Following the first 20 days of the war in Ukraine, this remarkable and deeply disturbing film offers a first-person account of the siege of Mariupol, which lasted for 86 days before the city fell to the invading Russian forces. Comprised of footage from a team of Ukrainian journalists who stayed behind to document the war, the documentary offers little context for the violence, instead simply depicting the rapid and wholesale destruction of a city and the lives of those who live in it.

Urgent and visceral in its construction, the film is a difficult watch, intentionally so, but it is also riveting, playing out as a heartbreaking thriller in which the audience already knows the inevitable ending. The result is a terrifying document that is a testament to the utter absurdity and pointlessness of this – and all – wars.

When: Saturday, 1 July at 5pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Ster Kinekor
Where: Cinema Noveau at Ster Kinekor, Dock Road, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town

Encounters Festival


Directed by Eva Weber | United Kingdom/Denmark/Germany | 2022 | 96 min

During her four terms as Germany’s first woman Chancellor, Angela Merkel established herself as a point of stability in an increasingly chaotic world. Even when faced with a refugee crisis that seemed to threaten the very fabric of Europe, Merkel consistently held her own, maintaining a moral position that has left her on the right side of history.

This comprehensive documentary looks back on her career and personal life, from her formative years in what was then East Germany, to her appointment on Helmut Kohl’s cabinet in a reunified Germany and her eventual role as one of the world’s longest-serving democratically elected leaders. Featuring extensive archive footage and interviews with colleagues and intimates, the result is a carefully considered portrait of a political figure who showed that there is a different way to do politics.

When: Monday, 26 June at 6:30pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Ster Kinekor
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town


Hidden Letters unveils the captivating tale of Nushu, a secret language used by Chinese women for centuries. The film intertwines the journeys of two modern women who find solace and empowerment through Nushu. From oppressive marriages to contemporary challenges, they navigate a culture ingrained in female subservience.

As they strive for balance and self-expression, the documentary exposes the commercialisation of Nushu, juxtaposing its intimate origins. Through poignant storytelling, filmmaker Violet Feng creates a lasting impact, shedding light on women’s equality and the enduring power of sisterhood.

When: Friday, 30 June at 8:30pm
Cost: R80pp, book via Webtickets
Where: The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town

Get in touch

Email: info@encounters.co.za
Tel: 074 739 1066
Facebook: @encountersdoc
Instagram: @encountersdoc

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