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Encounters 2024 opens with ‘Mother City’

The hard-hitting SA documentary is a deeply human and often heart-breaking look at the politics of urbanism.

The Encounters South African International Documentary Festival 2024 opens today (20 June), with the screening of Mother City

The festival features local, African, and international films, and showcases diverse voices, insightful perspectives, and compelling narratives. It takes place at venues in Cape Town and Johannesburg until 30 June 2024.

The beautifully observed Mother City, directed by Miki Redelinghuys and Pearlie Joubert, is a deeply human and often heart-breaking look at the politics of urbanism. The filmmakers follow activists of the Reclaim the City movement over six years as they make Cape Town’s abandoned spaces their home, and use it as a base from which to lobby for the needs of the working class.

In a classic David versus Goliath battle between passionate activists and politics and property power, Nkosikhona (Face) Swartbooi and his peers take to the streets, the courts, the fancy dinner functions, parliament and the homes of the people in power to get their voices heard. They travel to Barcelona to meet the mayor who has successfully turned Barcelona’s housing crisis around, searching for solutions to the ever-growing housing crisis in Cape Town.

The film immerses viewers in the lives of the oppressed and dispossessed, highlighting the struggle of those who need homes closer to work, education, and recreation, rather than being relegated to the outskirts of urban areas. It grapples with the rights for access, and fairness to be able to actively participate in an urban economy. It lays bare the struggles of people who are often vilified and othered for trying to rightfully claim a space to live with their families.

Mother City has been selected as our opening film, as it represents the heart of what documentary film-making is about,” says festival director, Mandisa Zitha. “Dedicated, tenacious, and vociferous in its approach to following a group of activists over a long period, to capture their challenges and frustrations, and indeed their successes. It speaks to the power of film in exposing the arduous journey so many in this world have to embark on to effect change. It is also a universally powerful story of the triumph of the collective.”

Miki Redelinghuys, impact producer at Plexis Films, says: “I have always thought of Mother City as a love letter to the city I call home and love very deeply. But love can also be painful in as much as it is beautiful. This film is an expression of many diverse lives observed through our lens and we hope our audience leaves inspired with a vision for building a shared democratic South Africa. We are extremely grateful that we have been able to share this story.”

Pearlie Joubert, an acclaimed investigative journalist who’s spent years as a news producer for ITV, Sky News and the BBC, says: “When Miki and I started filming Mother City, we dreamt that our film would shift permanently, the way one million visitors to Cape Town see this city and her policies. Now so many years later, we have only witnessed how politicians and property developers have formed and cemented an impenetrable wall keeping the poor out and away. Mother City is our ode to how gatvol we are of this status quo.”

Mother City premiered at the Sheffield Doc Fest in the UK in June before its African premiere at Encounters. 

The cinemas screening the 2024 Encounters’ line-up are: Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre, Ster-Kinekor Rosebank Nouveau, and The Bioscope Independent Cinema.

* For more information, visit the Festival website here.

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