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

Teaching with “One Table Two Elephants”

Text by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson.

We have made the film One Table Two Elephants (84 min) 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):

Teaching and learning with 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, interpreting 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; urban political ecology (UPE), 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. The teaching resource website will be updated continuously with your feedback.

Hand-outs and questions for students

Reading before or after the film; “flipped classroom”

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. With the film we wanted 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.

As film makers, we 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 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 in which readings are done before watching. Another possibility is to let students read after they have watched and then discuss the film. Or even watch the film a second time. As any ethnography, a second viewing/reading, will reveal layers not perceived the first time, but we understand that to have students watch a film twice could be a big ask.

Nevertheless, in providing resources for your teaching, we have suggested themes with relevant literature below and literature on background reading on Cape Town’s history and identity politics.

Themes and suggested literature

Post-apartheid politics and decolonization

Ontological politics, flat ontologies, postcolonial moments and partitioning the sensible

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

Reappropriation, revitalism and the “genius of paganism”

Film theory and postcolonial thinking

Colonial history and botanical history

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

Background to Cape Town, history and identities

  • Western, John. 1981. Outcast Cape Town. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Western, John. 2002. A Divided City: Cape Town. Political Geography 21 (5): 711–16.
  • 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.
  • Benson, Koni. 2016. Graphic Novel Histories: Women’s Organized Resistance to Slum Clearance in Crossroads, South Africa, 1975–2015. African Studies Review 59 (01): 199–214.
  • Benson, Koni. 2016. Three Hundred Years of Shack-Dwelling and Women’s Organized Resistance in Cape Town. In Out of Order: Popular Mobilisation in Contemporary South Africa. Fort Hare: Fort Hare University Press.

How to cite the film

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. URL: (#OpenAccess)