Reflections, Strategies and New Missions

August 29, 2023
It has been our privilege to design a programme of significant films that echo the current state of our world, and we were thrilled to present this to local audiences. 

The celebration of the 25th edition ushered in an occasion to delight and reflect on the impact of documentaries in our society through the perspective of recognisable directors and new voices from the continent and abroad. It has been our privilege to design a programme of significant films that echo the current state of our world, and we were thrilled to present this to local audiences. 

The 25th Encounters successfully held in both Johannesburg and Cape Town for 10 days in 14 venues, achieved excellent attendance results with an estimate of 6,097 attendees from the city centres, surrounding areas and online for the virtual Industry Talks. 

The Opening Night film, Milisuthando – the much-awaited 10-year in-the-making feature debut by talented director Milisuthando Bongela, has fast become one of the most-talked about films in the documentary programme circuit. 

The Festival team curated a selection of 54 compelling documentaries from the region and abroad that encompassed new styles, formats, animation, international and local award-winners, ‘best of the fest’ and works from an emerging generation of talented filmmakers. The Festival achieved a total publicity value of R5 932 702,81 across all media.

The creative, economical, cultural and political context impacting the production of documentary were unpacked through a series of Industry Talks taking place in-person and online. The 4th Rough Cut Lab Africa which took place online, invited African documentary film projects in the late offline stage, to pair up directors and editors on the projects, with African story consultants from all fields of filmmaking. The Lab, now a Pan African initiative, continues to support filmmakers in shaping their stories and receiving prizes to assist with completion.

The Festival welcomed the return of the Ster-Kinekor Encounters Youth Experience (EYE) Awards for the Best South African Short under 20 minutes. As well as the Adiaha Award presented by Ladima Foundation, DOK.fest München and Encounters, rewarding excellence in documentary filmmaking by African women. We were also proud to present the Encounters / Al Jazeera Best Documentary Award for the  Best African and Best International film, adjudicated by the programming team, supported for the first time by Al Jazeera Media Network, rewarding films that embrace excellence and fresh perspective in documentary filmmaking.

As we reflect on the achievements of this year’s edition, Encounters is poised to continue its legacy and strengthen the Festival’s impact in the documentary landscape with a revisioning of its core mandate. 

Encounters has established itself as a highly regarded festival both locally and globally, serving as a launching pad for African documentaries worldwide.  The Festival has remained resilient through many challenging periods over the years, and innovated by migrating to digital platforms with success during the recent pandemic.

The current approach of the organization includes organizing the highly successful Encounters Documentary Festival, the Institute also secures funding to run year-round programs, transfer skills in festival management and curation, and support emerging filmmakers from under-serviced communities. Encounters has been able to build a strong network of supporting expertise, international relationships, community partnerships, and media relations, and key to its success, a passionate and committed team. 

In order to further elevate its focus and impact, the organization has recently embarked on a strategic planning mission to develop a comprehensive five-year growth plan. The objective is to position Encounters as the official hub for the Pan-African documentary community and a pivotal platform for the documentary film industry in South Africa and the African continent. Whilst Encounters was initially established with the goal of hosting a Documentary Festival in South Africa, its influence and impact has since extended beyond national borders into Africa and the wider world, and moving forward, it is important to acknowledge that the Encounters Documentary Festival operates under the umbrella of the Encounters Training and Development Institute. Exploring the constitutional mandate of the Institute and the untapped opportunities it presents has been a prominent theme in the reimagining process. 

With this in mind, the Encounters Institute has now developed a medium term strategic plan with clear objectives, to address current challenges and leverage strengths. These objectives include strengthening the governance and operational framework, creating a comprehensive funding strategy, formalizing the training and development function, broadening audience development programs, increasing brand awareness, and providing tangible opportunities for documentary filmmakers. 

By focusing on these strategic objectives, the organization aims to enhance efficiency, secure sustainable funding, expand its reach, and empower documentary filmmakers to make a lasting impact. We are committed to promoting indigenous filmmaking, fostering film literacy, and providing training opportunities for emerging and established filmmakers. By fortifying our infrastructure, expanding festival programs, and enhancing international operations, we aim to create a stronger platform to fulfill our mission. Additionally, we aspire to elevate the profile of the Encounters Training and Development Institute to compete on a global scale, fostering collaboration and utilizing existing resources to empower African documentaries and secure our place on the international film map. 

To ensure the successful attainment of our strategic objectives, we have established key indicators to measure our progress and achievements. 

  • Implementation of a framework for organisational policy and process. 
  • Implementation of an effective talent management framework. 
  • Increase of R1,000,000.00 in annual operating funding. 
  • Increase of R1,000,000.00 in annual project budgets. 
  • Established training and development framework. 25% increase in cinema ticket sales. 
  • Established programme for documentary filmmakers to produce creative documentaries. 

With a clear vision, mission, and strategic plan in place, the Encounters Institute is well-positioned to advance documentary cinema, foster regional collaboration, develop audiences, and support the careers of African filmmakers, ultimately contributing to the growth of an inclusive and vibrant African documentary filmmaking community.

If you would like to advise or support us with our strategic objectives, please email