Milisuthando could not be a more fitting opening night offering (22 June) for Encounters, which is celebrating its 25th year as Africa’s leading international documentary festival, having proudly showcased the boldest, brightest, and most compelling nonfiction films from South Africa, Africa, and the world year after year.
The film looks both backwards and forwards, delving deep into the legacy of apartheid and meditating on South Africa’s future, through its unflinching willingness to examine both the current state of the country and the filmmaker’s own complex identity, announcing the arrival of a fresh and exciting local filmmaker in director Milisuthando Bongela.
“Premiering this film at home after so many years of brewing and cooking, my only hope is that it will add to the canon of a cinema that softens our understanding of the hardest parts of who we are as a people. And it is with love, as much love as we could muster, that my team and I share this story with South Africans.” – Milisuthando Bongela
Born in 1985 in the Xhosa homeland Transkei, which was constructed by the apartheid system to give the Black majority living there a false sense of nationhood, Bongela’s ode to herself explores her path of discovery as it parallels the country’s transition to independence. When South Africa’s apartheid government crumbled and democracy was restored in 1994, nine-year-old Bongela left behind the only world she knew – which no longer existed – and went with her family to begin a new chapter in an integrated South Africa.
The documentary form is deconstructed as the film investigates Bongela’s origins, memories, and multifarious sense of self through completely diverse chapters, each with its own goal, tone, and style. The impact is almost bizarre, at times almost bittersweetly hilarious, nearly sad, and immensely confronting, thanks to an extraordinary and comprehensive library of archival film masterfully interwoven.
The film is one woman’s bold personal examination that speaks to a larger South African reckoning – in search of who we are and where we’ve come from. It features old and new interviews, 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. In a complex and conflicted society still processing its oppressive heritage, this is a strong, poetic statement of intent from a new filmmaking voice that should not be missed.
“Milisuthando not only challenges us to know and remember: it reminds us that we are inseparable from our histories. That to forget a place like Transkei would, for Bongela, be to forget herself.” – Rolling Stone
Encounters runs 22 June – 2 July 2023.
The following cinemas will form part of 2023 Encounters:
In Cape Town – Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre, The Bertha House Mowbray, and The Bertha Movie House Isivivana Community Centre Khayelitsha.
In Johannesburg – Ster-Kinekor Rosebank Nouveau, The Bioscope Independent Cinema