Arts and Culture

Civil Society rescues Encounters International Documentary Festival

By Nkateko Mabasa 19 June 2018

Encounters, the South African International Documentary Festival, faced a financing deficit that would have discontinued it as an “essential fixture” in the South African film landscape. However, civil society came to the rescue of this important cultural event.

For two decades, Encounters festival has been arguably the continent’s premier showcase for non-fiction film, and this year it almost did not happen because it had lost support from its main funder, the National Film and Video Foundation.

On the eve of the event’s opening night, on its 20th anniversary, organisers were informed in a letter that the event faced closure after the NFVF declined its usual request for funding.

According to a statement released on Tuesday this week, Encounters received a rescue package from civil society within two weeks of the festival’s opening which resulted in a dramatic turnaround as supporters stepped forward to help bridge the big financial funding gap.

Bertha Foundation, an organisation which supports activists, storytellers and lawyers who create artwork and fight for social, economic and human rights, became this year’s largest donor. Open Society Foundation and Spier were also among the biggest supporters.

Encounters needed to raise R700,000 to compensate for the lost NFVF funds. However, through the festival’s crowdfunding campaign, R128,359.00 was raised towards the rescue fund.

The Encounters festival is a cultural event that showcases the work of filmmakers and organises the industry’s programmes, masterclasses, and workshops for filmmakers hoping to expand their skill set and to network in the industry.

Although the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) is not the sole funder, it is the certainly the largest. For 10 years the fund has been a major source of steady support.

If it had not been for the support the festival received through crowdfunding campaign, the event might not have happened.

While Encounters has made it through this year’s festival and there is reason to celebrate the show of support, the organisation has no secure funding in place for future editions. This year was a crisis, and Encounters is grateful that people showed their love,” festival organisers said in the statement.

The statement said that Encounters’ belief in the power of documentary film to transform, create empathy and to contribute to mutual understanding and dialogue between cultures allows the festival to be a vital platform where both established and emerging filmmakers and audiences intersect with documentary cinema from South Africa and abroad.

The success of the fundraising campaign is proof that South Africans and many others don’t want to lose it. The reality is that Encounters might not happen next year unless the crisis fund becomes something more secure.” DM

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