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Striking Similarities Between Vancouver and Cape Town, South Africa – both film industry favourites.

March 18, 2009

Vancouver and Cape Town, while thousands of miles apart, are strikingly similar in a number of ways. Geographically the cities are alike, framed by mountains and ocean. Ethnically they are surprisingly similar, with people of Asian and European decent making up a large percent of both Cape Town and Vancouver city proper. Oddly enough, research organisations are intricately connected in the two cities: many people in the South African public health world, for example, have either studied or worked in Vancouver, and many of those studying this at the University of Cape Town are from Vancouver.

But it is the cities’ film industry that truly marks their similarities. During many afternoons while studying at UBC I had to find another library to research in or use a different path to walk to class because my beloved Koerner or Buchanan had suddenly been transformed into a high school or (needless to say oversized) post office. In Cape Town I also often have to use different routes to get to work because a film crew is blocking my way. Many of the people that I have met in both Vancouver and Cape Town are connected to the industry. Lowly recent graduates in Vancouver sprinkle film sets, working 16-hour days for little pay. In Cape Town, fewer locals are employed: rather I bump into excitable, sunburnt ex-pats drinking relatively cheap mojitos who are thrilled to have been transported here for a few month’s shooting time.

Cape Town’s film scene is especially interesting because it does offer both an African and a European setting. In asking different (perhaps notably primarily European) film makers why Cape Town is chosen over the film’s actual African setting (usually East or West Africa), they remark that it’s because the infrastructure here is much stronger and more reliable than that of the rest of the Dar Es Salaam or Accra. “Africa” can be shot, therefore, without actually having to deal with the reality of the continent’s messiness. If a film is based in Europe, however, Cape Town is still a viable option because it is a large cosmopolitan city that requires only about a ¼ of the costs that shooting in Berlin or Paris would. The Cape Town film industry, therefore, represents the strange hybridity of the city so often remarked upon: not really African and yet not European, it simultaneously occupies and is rejected from both geographical identities.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2009 9:21 am

    South Africa also has a robust television industry. One of my favourite bloggers, Denis McGrath of ‘Dead Things on Sticks’, was one of the writers for ‘Charlie Jade’, a short-lived Canadian/SA co-pro. He often reflects fondly on his days in Cape Town and the people he got to know there.

  2. March 20, 2009 12:40 am

    That’s really interesting. Just when you think things are so different between the cities, they have their similarities. I found this an interesting blog.

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