The Fairest Cape of Them All? Cape Town in Cinematic Imagination


Work on film and the city is still in its infancy for Africa. To my knowledge, there is little research on the way that film has contributed to promoting the image of African cities. This article aims to help fill this gap. In doing so, it draws on Giuliana Bruno’s observations on the close relationship between cinema and mass tourism. The article reviews existing literature on cinema and urban Africa. It then explores ways in which Cape Town was represented on film before the ending of apartheid in 1994 and the subsequent rapid rise of the city as a mass tourist destination, international film location and centre of a local film industry. A number of films about the city have since been made for tourists and sold as DVDs or aired on the likes of the Travel Channel. They predictably construct Cape Town as a desirably ‘unique’ and exotic, yet sufficiently safe and ‘vibrant’, city of the imagination. Through close analysis of a typical local travelogue, this article analyses how film language is deployed to this end in the context of Cape Town’s apartheid past, the reality of extensive poverty, disease and violence in the present, and dystopian imagery in a growing number of locally made films.