After intense negotiations, the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival has acquired one of the hottest, most acclaimed films of 2021. The film can only have a limited theatrical release as part of the Festival, with just three screenings at the Labia in Cape Town.

Flee, directed by Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen, with executive producers, Emmy award-winning, Academy-nominated actor Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster–Waldau (Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones), was hailed as “an instant classic” by judges and critics when it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January this year.

Afghan Amin, on the verge of marrying his husband, agrees to share his remarkable story for the first time, about his hidden past of fleeing his country as a refugee on condition that his identity will not be revealed.   Flee is a film unbound by documentary constraints, using an astonishing array of archival footage, 80’s pop music and hand-drawn animation that brings the audience into the experience of a teen fleeing multiple countries, and the psychological impact on how he loves, trusts and understands his growing  identity.

 “There have been countless movies about the immigration crisis, but none of them have the sheer ingenuity of Flee. In Rasmussen’s poignant animated documentary, an Afghan refugee recounts his 20-year survival story, and the dazzling storytelling goes there with him. Yet the remarkable graphic style works in tandem with a narrative that would stun in any format: As the man — identified only by a pseudonym, Amin Nawabi — gradually opens up about his experiences, “Flee” builds to a powerful secret buried in his past that reframes the global migrant crisis in intimate terms” says Indiewire. 

Encounters has also announced the latest feature-length documentaries joining the 2021 lineup. Mexican-Ethiopian director Jessica Beshir’s Faya Dayi explores the rituals of khat, Ethiopia’s most lucrative crop, a leaf chewed for centuries for religious meditation. Exquisitely filmed in black and white, Faya Dayi’s dreamlike tapestry of intimately observed realities offers a window into the lives of young Ethiopians constrained by the yoke of a repressive regime.

In The Golden Wolf of Baloe, set in the heart of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a granite quarry where nearly 2,500 people, adults and children on the margins of a society spend their days breaking large rocks into stones and gravel. Despite the backbreaking conditions, they get paid very little for their output, with middlemen taking most of the profits. But even these depressing conditions do not repress their solidarity, hopes, and even humour. With the winds of change blowing through the country, a new voice emerges within, offering a chance for a better future. Director Chloe Aicja Boro’s film is full of hope, driven by optimism and solidarity as the miners unite to negotiate a better salary.

 Another story of hope is told in a film that takes place miles away in A Portrait on the Search for Happiness by director Benjamin Rost, who through elegant cinematography and sensitive storytelling, takes us to the Northern Cape, where the hopes of a young father, a virtually homeless former cook who once rubbed shoulders with royalty, and a former diamond diver, collide in the dust of the old diamond pans.