Since its inception in 1999, Encounters has been instrumental in the growth of a cinema-going audience in the documentary genre in South Africa. The success of the Festival lies in the choice selection of excellent documentaries, both South African and International, and the presence of invited professionals.
A democratic space is provided by stimulating discussions and debates during the Festival through the Q&A sessions after the screenings with renowned international and local filmmakers. The annual master classes with international professionals, conferences and the workshop programmes are highly popular.
The Close Laboratory Project and the Africa Shorts Documentary Project in partnership with the Jan Vrijman Fund and SABC have played an important role in providing training and support for emerging and established filmmakers in Southern Africa, having commissioned 42 documentaries.
Encounters pioneered the Satellite Festivals in the townships in 2006 with programmes in two townships. The Inreach programme which began in 2006, targets township-based filmmakers and students, and enables them to attend the Festival. In 2003 – 2004 Encounters ran the Schools Programme in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
Encounters strategic partnerships with international and local organisations has been critical in the training and development initiatives, as well as exposing local and African content to International audiences.