SITUATED ECOLOGIES gathers art, design and research collaborations to contest and democratise ecologies.

Teaching material for “One Table Two Elephants”

Text by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson.

We have made the film One Table Two Elephants (84 min, von Heland & Ernstson, 2018) free for use and remixing, except for commercial purposes (CC-BY-NC). Filmed in Cape Town, it provides a textured and nuanced account of knowledge politics in a postcolonial city, which we have found translates well to many other places. It opens up important questions about nature, urbanization, class, race and the living remains of colonialism.

One Table Two Elephants (84 min, von Heland & Ernstson, 2018) free for use and remixing, except for commercial purposes (CC-BY-NC).

Scholarly reference: Von Heland, Jacob, and Henrik Ernstson (2018) One Table Two Elephants (84 minutes, cinematic ethnography, film, Color, HD, Dolby 5:1). World Premiere In Competition at CPH:DOX March 20, 2018. The Situated Ecologies Platform (CC-BY-NC): Stockholm. Stable URL (Open Access):

How to learn, how to teach the film?

The film deliberately does not tell an easy story, because that is not how things are. Instead we trust the audience to engage and make up their minds and feelings, reading it in diverse ways to engage with one another. Many students have found it intriguing and engaging. 

Below you will find teaching support followed by suggested themes around which you can structure your lesson or seminar. Nonetheless, there are other ways of using the film in teaching and learning and we hope you will share with us your teaching experience, either through an email to us or using social media with the hashtag #Teaching1T2E. The film works well for advanced undergraduate courses in:

  • anthropology (e.g., Indigenous Landscapes);
  • human geography (e.g., political ecology; postcolonial geography);
  • environmental studies, including urban ecology and nature conservation;
  • urban studies, including Southern urbanism; and
  • classes focusing on decoloniality and the living remains of empire and colonialism.

Motivated PhD students and postgraduates can also use the film in self-organised seminars and we are interested in your feedback also. The teaching resource website will be updated continuously with your feedback.

How to cite the film (scholarly citation)

Von Heland, Jacob, and Henrik Ernstson (2018) One Table Two Elephants (84 minutes, cinematic ethnography, film, Color, HD, Dolby 5:1) World Premiere In Competition at CPH:DOX, March 20, 2018. Copenhagen: CPH:DOX. Stable Link (Open Access):

Teaching support

“Flipped classroom,” or Reading before or after the film?

The film will suit the use of a “flipped classroom,” allowing students to watch the whole film or parts of it before class and read one or two texts. This provides conditions for a rich discussion in small and wider groups.

However, a choice you might face is if you want students to read into the particular history of Cape Town and South Africa, before or after having watched the film. The film itself, follows a postcolonial commitment to pluralise how to think, represent and perform history, and who can do such thinking and performance. The film wants people to understand the particularity of the place itself, Cape Town—and then through the texture that the film brings, to let their ideas about the film travel to understand other places, situations and abstract notions. Cape Town is crucial for the film, but the film can travel beyond Cape Town.

We as film makers have always liked to let the film stand on its own. That is to say, we often give a very short introduction and then we start the film. This allows students and viewers to meet the film informed only by their personal history and previous studies. In a course setting this might not be recommendable and as stated above, a “flipped classroom” also works; by reading before watching the film, you can create a common intellectual platform from where students can engage the film.

As always, it is up to you how you plan your lesson or seminar. One possibility of course, is to let them read after they have watched and then discuss the film again. And even watch the film a second time. As any ethnography, a second viewing/reading, will reveal things that were not perceived the first time. (We understand that to have students watch a film twice is a big ask; your decision!)

Nevertheless, in providing resources for your teaching, we have placed relevant literature on Cape Town’s history, including identity politics, at the end of this page.

Themes and suggested literature

Flat ontologies, postcolonial moments and partitioning the sensible

Post-apartheid politics and decolonization

Colonial history and botanical history

Reappropriation, revitalism and the “genius of paganism”

Film theory and postcolonial thinking

Urban ecology and nature conservation: Cape Flats and The Princess Vlei struggle

Southern urbanism: Thinking with “conflicting rationalities” and “platforms of engagement”

Background to Cape Town, history and identities

  • Western, John. 1981. Outcast Cape Town. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Mabin, Alan, and Dan Smit. 1997. Reconstructing South Africa’s Cities? The Making of Urban Planning 1900 – 2000. Planning Perspectives 12 (2): 193–223.
  • Ahluwalia, Pal, and Abebe Zegeye. 2003. Between Black and White: Rethinking Coloured IdentityAfrican Identities 1 (2): 253–80.
  • Wicomb, Zoë. 1998. Shame and Identity: The Case of the Coloured in South Africa. In South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995, edited by Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly, 93–94. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Adhikari, Mohamed. 2005. Not White Enough Not Black Enough: Racial Identity in the South African Coloured Community. Athens and Cape Town: Ohio University Press and Double Books.
  • Benson, Koni, and Faeza Meyer. 2015. “Reluctantly Loud: Interventions in the History of Land Occupation.” In African Cities Reader III, edited by Edgar Pieterse. 64–95. Cape Town: African Centre for Cities & Chimurenga.