Megacitites: Global visions for an urban future

At this very moment, giant urban organisms are growing at unprecedented rates. Today 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2030 this figure is predicted to increase to 80 percent. Growth has far outpaced city planning. The challenges and solutions to the problems in four of the world’s biggest cities — Bogotá, Cairo, Mumbai and Shanghai — are the focus of the film series Cities on Speed, a documentary project commissioned by the Danish Film Institute and the national broadcaster DR.

From the birth of the motion-picture medium, the big city as a living, manifold organism has been a favourite subject of filmmakers the world over, pros and amateurs, documentary and fiction auteurs, alike. From Walter Ruttmann’s "Berlin, die Symphonie der Großstadt" (1927) to Woody Allen's "Manhattan" (1979), the city has been a frame for cinematic narratives – if not the actual subject itself. A rich tradition in film history of capturing modern urban life on celluloid underlies the "Cities on Speed" project.

...these are documentary snapshots of life in modern megacities

...these are documentary snapshots of life in modern megacities

The series presents four filmic views of human conditions in four of the world's biggest cities, focusing on urban problems and the people who are working on radical solutions – from underground parks in Shanghai, over clowns miming traffic police in Bogotá, to the so-called garbage collectors in Cairo and the Nano cars of Mumbai.

Not "urban symphonies" in the classic sense, these are documentary snapshots of life in modern megacities. How does explosive population growth impact the cities' infrastructure? How do you handle all the problems that come with such growth? What drives millions of people to migrate from rural villages to these gigantic human anthills? How does an individual human adapt to a new reality with limited room and constant change?

Character-driven docs

To get answers to these questions and more, the Danish Film Institute and the national broadcaster DR made a joint call for submissions for four film projects. The description called for character-driven documentary tales as vehicles for depicting the challenges and development potentials that result when cities continue to grow to a point in history when more than half of the world's population is already living in cities. The ambition was for each film to apply its own thematic vision to the issue of megacities and gather new, unexpected and, as far as possible, entertaining stories from the kind of material that is usually presented on TV as statistics or negative news reports on crime, slums and pollution.

In the following pages you can read about the directors' visions, their style and the stories they chose to tell in their films: "Bogotá Change" by Andreas Dalsgaard and Upfront Films, "Cairo Garbage" by Mikala Krogh and Nimbus Film, "Mumbai Disconnected" by Camilla Nielsson, Frederik Jacobi and Upfront Films, and "Shanghai Space" by Nanna Frank Møller and Bastard Film & TV.