Cape Town Together: Film Review

Film Review (Originally Shared through Keppel Health Review)

By Bronte Davies, Faye Roderos, Laura Haywood

Spanning Table Mountain to the Cape Flats, Cape Town Together tells the story of a neighbourhood-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Cape Town, South Africa. At the peak of the response, 170 Community Action Networks (CANs) united in a time of crisis through Cape Town Together to address pre-existing social and structural issues that were amplified during the pandemic.  

The documentary is an inspiring story of hope and action in a time of catastrophe. It carries viewers through a multitude of emotions that anyone can attribute to their personal COVID-19 pandemic experience: a dance between fear, joy, frustration and confusion, with glimmers of hope and an overriding call to action. 

Created through a collaborative filmmaking process by four CAN members, the film conveys the panic and uncertainty felt in the days leading up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address before a nationwide lockdown. The lack of continuity between the community and local government is illustrated by a mayoral representative accused of “planning without [them]” as the town members seek access to running water. The snapshot highlights perfectly the socio-economic and political inequities so common in South Africa.  

The tone shifts and viewers are given a glimpse of hope as communities act in response to the pandemic and food insecurity: Langa CAN members deliver food parcels via bicycles, a Gugulethu CAN member shares stories from the soup kitchen she runs with her mother, Oceanview CAN members provide a view of a local community care centre, and children wait to have their hands sanitised before food is dished out in Bonteheuwel. The narrative to “flatten the curve” is observed in an aerial shot that shows children standing in line with their arms spread wide, maintaining the ‘stay 1.5m apart’ mantra as they wait for food. 

 Recordings of online meetings with Cape Town Together organisers provide a window to what was dubbed “self-organising magic”, highlighting the trust placed in Cape Town Together by the public and local Department of Health. These meetings give us insight on how communities worked together to push for inclusive action that considers all and not just a privileged few. 

Cape Town Together highlights the best in people, community, and solidarity, despite the strained context in which it was initiated. The film perfectly demonstrates how powerful collective action can be in enacting the change that people truly want. It is a hopeful contribution to filmmaker Leanne Brady’s body of advocacy film work around Emergency Medical Services in Cape Town, and Dylan Valley’s Cape Town and South African-centred work using film as a tool for social change. 

You can watch Cape Town Together here and view a Q&A with the filmmakers and the International Working Group for Health Systems Strengthening (IWG) here.