Mother City

The Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, known for its diverse voices and impactful stories, has chosen “Mother City” as its opening film for the 2024 edition. This year’s festival will showcase a lineup of acclaimed local, African, and international documentaries at venues in Cape Town and Johannesburg from June 20 to 30.

“Mother City,” directed by Miki Redelinghuys and Pearlie Joubert, is a deeply human exploration of urban politics in Cape Town. Over six years, the film follows activists from the Reclaim the City movement as they fight for the working class’s right to housing in the city center.

The documentary chronicles a David-and-Goliath struggle as Nkosikhona (Face) Swartbooi and his fellow activists confront powerful political and property interests. Their fight takes them from the streets of Cape Town to the halls of parliament, even venturing to Barcelona to learn from a successful housing initiative.

“Mother City” offers a glimpse into the lives of those pushed to the city’s fringes, denied access to opportunities closer to work and amenities. It’s a powerful story about the fight for basic rights, challenging the vilification of people simply seeking a place to call home.

“This film exemplifies the core values of documentary filmmaking,” says Festival Director Mandisa Zitha. “It follows a group of activists over a significant period, capturing their struggles and triumphs. It showcases the power of film to expose social issues and inspire change.”

Miki Redelinghuys describes “Mother City” as a love letter to Cape Town, a city she holds dear. “Love can be painful,” she reflects, “and this film reflects the diverse realities within the city. We hope audiences will be inspired to work towards a more equitable South Africa.”

Investigative journalist Pearlie Joubert, who co-directed the film, expresses frustration at the entrenched systems that keep the poor out of central areas. “Our hope was to shift the narrative around Cape Town’s policies,” she says. “Yet, the power structures remain firmly in place.”

“Mother City” is produced by Kethiwe Ngcobo, Pearlie Joubert, and Miki Redelinghuys. It will have its world premiere at the Sheffield Doc Fest in the UK before its African debut at Encounters on June 20.

The festival screenings will take place at the following cinemas:

Cape Town: Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre
Johannesburg: Ster-Kinekor Rosebank Nouveau, The Bioscope Independent Cinema
Encounters is supported by organizations including the City of Cape Town, the Bertha Foundation, and the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa.