The film “One Table Two Elephants” is a research film essay that explores the politics of urban environmental knowledge in postcolonial cities. The film is created by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson and filmed in Cape Town as part of the Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies research project (PI Henrik Ernstson). See a 5 minute teaser below.
The film project started in 2014 when we received additional communication project funding from Swedish Formas (PI Jacob von Heland). Filming was based on extensive ethnographic work carried out since 2010 by Henrik Ernstson in his postdoctoral work and in the Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies project. The film was planned during 2014 with filming taking place with all participants during some intensive weeks in January and March in 2015. This was followed by producing a “first cut” version ready for a conference in May 2014. (Watch the 5 minute ‘trailer’ of the film above.)
Audience and screening
During 2015, 2016 and 2017 the 47 minute “first cut” version has been seen by several hundred people—students, scholars and the general public in nine different cities in Africa, Europe and North America, including Windhoek, Stellenbosch, Grahamstown, New York, Palo Alto, Rome, Munich, Trier, and Stockholm. The rich and textured material, which is edited without a voice over, makes present how multiple histories are interrelated across the city. The film provides possibilities for laymen to experts to reflect and deliberate over how a city and its environments can be known and their inherent politics. The full-length 81 minute version of the film is planned to be screened at film festivals in Africa and Europe during 2018.
The “first cut” version have been screened and discussed at the following venues:
- Stanford University, Palo Alto, USA, May 2015
- KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, August 2015
- Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa, November 2015
- Namibian Technical University (NUST), Windhoek, Namibia in March 2016
- Universtá di Roma Tre in Rome, Italy, September 2016
- Rachel Carson Centre, Munich, Germany, September 2016
- New York University, New York, USA, at the Deutsches Haus, 3 April 2017
- University of Trier, Trier, Germany, 8 June 2017
One Table Two Elephants (first cut, 47 min; final cut 81 min) — Created by: Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson together with urban knowers of Cape Town, including Bradley Sitters, Bridget Pitt, Charlie Mbalanda, Dave Halkett, Dieter Schlange, Emile YX Jansen, Fagmee Jacobs, George Davis, Gregg Oelofse, Kelvin Cochrane, Leeroy Philips, Lance van Sittert, Mr Isaacs, Nceba Felix Mangesi, Patricia Pat Holmes, Philip Bam, Stefan Benting, Thola Antamu, Tim Hart and Tanya and Andrea Eckstein. Photography: Johan von Reybekiel. Sound: Jonathan Chiles. Assistants: Nceba Mangesi and Jessica Rattle. Funding: Swedish Formas & Markus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation. Produced by: Telltales Film and The Situated Ecologies Platform in collaboration with the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory in Stockholm and the African Centre for Cities the University of Cape Town. Funded by: The Swedish Research Council Formas and the Markus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation.
Early “public notes” about a film project
A blog and website offers a possibility to back-log previous thinking. Now in May 2017, and the with the final film almost finished, it is good to come back to and still keep posted our earlier public notes about the film, which follows below.
How different groups create knowledge about urban nature
Our film takes an interest in how different groups create knowledge about urban nature, thereby shaping the future of the city, its ecology, and its meaning to the people of the city. The story starts with grassroots in Cape Town and their work to rehabilitate the Princess Vlei wetland, which has also come to address the city’s history and apartheid legacy. The film continues and follows other groups. In particular we aim to follow municipal biologists and ecologists who have developed and fought to protect ecological functions and the biodiversity of the city in face of development pressure at a broader scale. By describing the work of these different groups, and the city from their perspective, we want to surface how different values and knowledge of urban nature is articulated and become part of public debate.
While biologists might rely on scientific methods, databases, algorithms and maps to bring urban nature into public debates, residents have organized campaigns, planting activities with school children, and performed hip hop songs and circulated slave legends that ties urban nature to the history of the city. The film is interested in understanding the generative differences by which groups approach and give value to urban nature. But also aspects of how scientific and popular knowledge might disappear when decisions around urban nature is to be taken.
The decision-making processes we use seems to have difficulties to maintain the very textured and detailed knowledges that there is about urban nature, from scientific understandings of fynbos and wetland ecology, to intimate feelings of affect and care for urban nature. Indeed, beyond the registers of knowing that different groups use—beyond what can be measured, or what can be expressed in popular struggles and campaigns—lies a silence about the significance of urban nature, its complexities.
The film is about how knowledge about urban nature is performed, and how it matters
The topic is of general relevance for urban contexts world-wide, not least for rapidly growing cities in the developing world. In this context, Cape Town stands out with its high levels of biodiversity, its unequal and demanding development challenges and its apartheid history, which makes Cape Town an important city to understand. It also follows that any film about knowledge production and nature protection will encounter and make visible the always present, but sometimes obscure connections between knowledge, nature, democracy and power. This increases the value of the film as a discussion material in public debates, higher education, and in research.