Dancing with the Devil in the City of God production stills. Torres enjoys one of his customary cigars during police raid in Complexo do Alemao (German Complex). (Australfoto/Douglas Engle)

Once again, KAREN RUTTER is impressed with the rich range of film on offer at the annual Encounters SA/International Documentary Festival.

It’s time for the 14th annual Encounters SA/International Documentary Festival which offers a superb range of titles. Twenty-nine international and 22 local films have made the cut, which include a number of world premieres and award-winning productions.

As festival director Mandisa Zitha puts it, “it’s only through the courageous and unflinching eye of the documentary film-maker that the stories behind the news can be told”. And there is a feast of compelling stories being told, from drug trafficking in Rio’s favelas to perspectives on female circumcision, from the funky art of a fresh new Egypt to the true tale of a brave rhinoceros. Guest directors, workshops and industry gatherings are part of the event at the Fugard Theatre and V&A Waterfront.

l Call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.encounters.co.za

HHHH JUMU’A: THE GATHERING. SA 2012. Directed by Dylan Valley.

A gentle and genial offering, Jumu’a: The Gathering takes a look at the laid-back community of Murabitun Muslims living in Muizenberg. With the camera gliding unobtrusively through the streets of this seaside village, stopping in for coffee and conversation in small businesses and homes, a picture emerges of a group at peace with itself.

It’s by no means a conventional religious collective – while some have grown up in the Muslim faith, others have come to it via Christianity or Rastafarianism. And neither is it homogeneous – there’re men, women, the local baker, a male model, a hippy, the old and the young. What brings them together is a common respect for, and relish of, their faith. And within the relaxed, diverse neighbourhood of Muizenberg, they’ve established a real sense of social cohesion.

Director Dylan Valley sensitively links the daily rituals of prayer with the natural beauty that surrounds Muizenberg – the mountains, the sea – and ends up with a delicate gem of a movie.

l Screening times: Fugard: June 11. V&A Nu Metro: June 18.

HHHH SAYING GOODBYE. SA 2012. Directed by Izette Mostert.

In 2006, UWC professor Sean Davidson finally complied with his mother’s wishes. At the age of 85, with terminal cancer, she had asked for assistance to die with dignity.

A medical doctor herself, she was well aware of the way she would die as a terminally ill patient, and wished to control as much of her demise as possible.

Finally, after much soul searching – and after his three siblings refused – Sean Davidson helped his mother end her misery. For this, he was later charged with attempted murder, and stood the risk of facing many years in jail. Saying Goodbye is a moving account of the relationship between a son and his mother, one which explores the bond between parent and child with a measured yet emotional frankness.

With additional input from Sean’s remaining family, as well as his own wife (and two small children), the film looks at how Davidson came to make a very hard decision – and the consequences of his action. A deeply thoughtful, and thought-provoking, documentary.

l Screening times: V&A Nu Metro: today. Fugard: June 17. V&A Nu Metro: June 23.

HHHH DANCING WITH THE DEVIL. UK 2009. Directed by Jon Blair.

Respected SA-born documentary-maker Jon Blair, who’s picked up an Oscar, two Emmys and countless other awards during the course of his career, shows just how it’s done in Dancing with the Devil.

The gritty, sometimes shocking, but ultimately poignant film gives a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the drug trafficking crisis in Rio de Janeiro.

It follows three men – burly cop Leonardo Torres, skinny drug lord Spiderman and reformed trafficker-turned-pastor Dione – as they deal with the daily realities of life and death in Rio’s poverty-stricken favelas.

Each has his own reason for walking what is ultimately a very dangerous line. And, in a non-judgmental approach, Blair allows the men to tell their own stories.

What is perhaps most startling about the documentary is the access the film-maker and his team are allowed, from filming actual bloody shootouts to interviewing wanted criminals.

A remarkable, accomplished piece of work.

l Screening times: V&A Nu Metro: today. Fugard: June 14.

HHH CONNECTED: AN AUTOBLOGOGRAPHY ABOUT LOVE, DEATH AND TECHNOLOGY. USA 2011. Directed by Tiffany Shlain.

Fast-paced, funny and full of pertinent flashes on contemporary ways of being, Tiffany Shlain meditates on the state of our technologised lives in Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology.

Coming at it from both a personal and political perspective, she explores how our path of progress has resulted in a simultaneous strengthening and weakening of global societies.

Bravely tackling the big themes – metaphysics, nature, gender relations – she reflects on achievements already made and potential still to be realised.

At the same time, while making the film, her own life is rocked by a series of personal events that emphasise her own connectivity to family and friends.

Clever, witty and stylish, it’s a film about geeks, brains, bees and feminists that fits together much more than one would expect. Which is probably the point…

l Screening times: V&A Nu Metro: Sunday, June 14, June 21.

HHHH PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY. USA 2011. Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.

In 1993 the dead bodies of three eight-year-old boys were found naked and tied up in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Under pressure to find the killer/s, the local police finally arrested three teenage boys who were subsequently found guilty and served with sentences ranging from life to the death penalty.

In scenes reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley jr and Jason Baldwin were accused of having Satanic connections which led to the so-called ritual murders.

However, over the course of several years, their arrest and trial has directed major attention to the pitfalls of the American justice system, which leapt with indecent haste to a conclusion, disregarding crucial evidence and due process.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is the third film made by directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky on the crime and subsequent court cases. It’s a sobering and gripping look at both a horrific murder case and its horrendous consequences.

l Screen times: V&A Nu Metro: today, June 22. Fugard: June 16.