The Shore Break has won the Backsberg Audience Choice Award at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival for Best South African Film, while Virunga was voted Best International Film.
Best South African Film: The Shore Break
Directed by Ryley Grunenwald, The Shore Break is the disturbing story of two Pondo cousins on opposing sides of the Xolobeni Wild Coast mining conflict.
Australian mining company MRC Ltd and their BEE partners Xolco want to mine for titanium, while the South African government is pushing forwards with a plan to create a N2 Toll Road through the Wild Coast.
But as The Mail and Guardian asked in their review, “Why should Australian mining interests be allowed to despoil pristine Wild Coast dunes and the communities attached to the land?”
Many in the local community want to rather preserve their traditional Pondo lifestyle, with eco-tourism seen as an alternative route to economic growth. Many are also worried about disturbing the graves of their relatives.
But opposition comes at a price: some who speak up have allegedly been assassinated, while the late Pondo king was dethroned by government and replaced by a pro-mining relative.
The Shore Break sold out shows, had extra screenings added in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and sparked numerous conversations.
“It is incredibly rewarding that The Shore Break has been so well received by South African audiences,” says Ryley. “Though the film is busy being shown around the world, it is the local audience who truly understands all the layers, nuances and the gravity of the story – because the Wild Coast is part of our lives and part of our natural heritage as South Africans. The screenings at Encounters have been fantastic and we’re really grateful to the festival and the audiences for making years of hard work well worth it.”
The Backsberg Audience Choice Award is the second festival prize for The Shore Break, which was also named Best Documentary at the 2015 International Environmental Film Festival (FIFE) in Paris.
The Mail and Guardian hailed it as “eloquent, persuasive, forcible: advocacy documentary-making at its ethical best,” while City Press called it both “alarming” and “inspiring.”
Best International Film: Virunga
Directed by Orlando van Einsiedel, Virunga is an eco-thriller set in the DRC’s national park, a World Heritage Site that is home to the world’s last mountain gorillas.
Only two days before the film’s world premiere, park warden Emmanuel de Merode was gunned down after delivered damning evidence that Virunga is in grave danger.
With the Congo’s fragile peace crumbling, the park and its gorillas are under threat not just from the rebel army but also from a corrupt mining company that has found oil there.
The Backsberg Audience Choice Award is just the latest for Virunga, which has won over 20 international prizes and was nominated for the Oscar.
Audiences voted Nomakhomazi Dyosopu’s Ndi Vumeni: Faniswa the second most popular South African film, followed by Lebogang Rasethaba’s Prisoner 467/64. Ndi Vumeni: Faniswa screened with Jas Boude, directed by Georgina Warner and Imraan Christian.
Virunga’s fellow Oscar nominee, Wim Wenders’ The Salt of the Earth, was voted the second favorite international documentary, followed by Joshua Oppenheimer’s multi-award-winning The Look of Silence.
The 17th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival held 85 screenings in June, made possible through the support of the National Film and Video Foundation South Africa, Al Jazeera, Bertha Foundation, WESGRO, HCI Foundation, What’s On and Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking.
Festival programmer Jenna Bass says, “Congratulations to both The Shore Break and Virunga on their well-deserved wins. Having an African-set documentary win the Backsberg Audience Choice Award for Best International Film can only be indicative of South Africans’ growing interest in the rest of our continent. We are equally proud that the three most popular South Africa films were made by young filmmakers with fresh voices, engaging with activism of both the present and the past, in what we hope is a new era of transformative South African filmmaking.”
Backsberg Estate Cellars CEO Simon Back adds, “It is a great honour for us to sponsor the Audience Choice Awards. The aim of the awards is to raise awareness around the festival and what has resonated with audiences. With sustainability being core to the way we run our winery, I am also thrilled that both winners raise awareness around critical environmental matters.”