Two of South Africa’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers, Francois Verster and Simon Wood, collaborated with the Academy Award winning American producer Laura Poitras (Citizen Four) to make the evocative short documentary on the Cape’s water crisis – Scenes From A Dry City.
The film premiered at IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) in November 2018, becoming the first South African film in four years to be selected “in competition” at the festival. Having scooped the top prize for Best Mini Doc at its US premiere at the 16th Big Sky documentary film festival, the film has recently become eligible for an Academy Award consideration for Best Short Documentary in 2020. Scenes from a Dry City has been premiered online and can be viewed for free on this page.
“Visually stunning as it is urgent”
Described by IDFA as “a film that is as visually stunning as it is urgent”, Scenes From A Dry City reflects on the water crisis in Cape Town from different societal perspectives. We witness contrasting vignettes of illegal car washers and demonstrators protesting against water privatisation to Christians in a mass service praying for rain and golfers on a lush green course oblivious to the emergency. Superbly edited by Khalid Shamis with a haunting score, it is a slyly humorous, empathetic mood film of protest that is both gently reflective and devastating in its consideration of the consequences of the water crisis and how the scarcity of this most precious resource affects the city’s complex social fabric of racial and economic inequality.
Say Wood and Verster, “There had been a slate of journalistic films about the impact of the water crisis in Cape Town. We wanted to make a film that attempted instead, perhaps in a very tenuous way, to inhabit the perspective of water itself, its ultimate indifference to what is happening in the city, and thereby to try assess some of the deeper existential dimensions involved in the debate.”
In a first for South African cinema, the Scenes From A Dry City was executive produced by the New York based film activists’ Field of Vision, headed by Charlotte Cook and Academy Award winning filmmaker, Laura Poitras, known for her ground-breaking film about Edward Snowden Citizen Four. Field of Vision is a filmmaker-driven documentary production team that is dedicated to making cinematic work allowing filmmakers to take creative risks and explore new ways of storytelling. All their films are online to watch for free.
Wood and Verster have created a 12-minute filmic journey that is a poignant piece of protest cinema. The filmmakers, both award-wining documentary filmmakers in their own right, have a long list of successful films to their credit. Wood’s film Untamed was selected for the prestigious Final Cut at the 2018 International Venice Film Festival, his previous award winning films The Silent Form and Orbis both premiered in competition at Hot Docs Toronto, and his documentary Forerunners screened at IDFA 2011. Wood is currently working on a National Geographic-awarded augmented reality project Container.
Francois Verster is celebrated for heart-felt non-fiction films that have all won awards around the world, screening in major festivals such as Toronto, Sydney, IDFA and Hot Docs. These include When the War is Over, The Mothers’ House, Sea Point Days, The Dream of Shaharazad and A Lion’s Trail which won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Artistic and Cultural Programming in 2006. There have been various international retrospectives on his work, and he was also the producer of Whispering Truth to Power, which won the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs in 2018.
What: Scenes from a Dry City