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Cities on Speed | The film

December 9, 2009

Cities on Speed, GLOBAL VISIONS FOR an urban FUTURE is a documentary project commissioned by The Danish Film Institute and the national broadcaster DR . The project is a series of four films – Bogotà Change, Mumbai Disconnected, Cairo Garbage, Shanghai Space -, selected through a call for submissions, directed by four different filmmakers who tell character-based stories on four of the world’s largest megacities: Bogotá, Cairo, Mumbai and Shanghai.

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.

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.


Bogotá Change, directed by Andreas Dalsgaard, is the unique and surprising story of two mayors, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa, who have changed behaviour patterns in the Colombian capital, bringing Bogotá out of a negative spiral of violence and chaos and remaking it as something of a visionary role model for other megacities.

“The real secret behind Mockus and Peñalosa’s success is that they are two people characterized by extreme honesty and integrity in everything they do. They are two leaders who have the necessary courage to stay true to their visions, even when the opinion polls go against them. Unlike other politicians who are controlled by strategies and tactics, they have not been driven by a lust for power, only by their ideas and philosophies. And if there is a lesson to be learned by their story, it must be that the change they have managed to bring about could never have come from the traditional political system. It could only have come from the outside.” – Andreas Dalsgaard


Humour is a powerful element in Mumbai Disconnected, directed by Camilla Nielsson and Frederik Jacobi. Mumbai is growing like it was on steroids. But a collapsing infrastructure is threatening to put an end to the booming economy, and is making the daily commute close to unbearable for Mumbai’s 20 million citizens, where 13 people die every day on the railroads.

In Mumbai Disconnected, we are presented with three characters. Veena Singhal was born and raised in Mumbai, and has lived 39 years on Pedder Road, where she is president of the Pedder Road Residents Association and has fought for eight years against a planned flyover, a highway overpass, which according to her and the other area residents would increase pollution 540 percent and destroy their neighbourhood.


Cairo Garbage, directed by Mikala Krogh, takes us on a journey into Cairo’s “garbage cities,” entire neighbourhoods where people earn a living sorting and recycling garbage. Cairo shows us the culture and habit factors at play in this Middle Eastern city, where Italian contractors are hired to solve increasingly unmanageable waste-management tasks.

Historically, the so-called ‘garbage people’ have been able to manage Cairo’s total waste production, but as a result of the city’s explosive population growth, which has placed pressure on the old system, city authorities have outsourced part of the waste collection and management work to a number of foreign companies, including the Italian firm, Ama Arab, in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.


Shanghai Space, directed by Nanna Frank Møller, takes a poetic and contemplative look at the abnormal growth of China’s great port city, where a new building is constructed every other day,
and where the population increases by half a million people each year. A photographer, who has documented the city’s changes over the decades, is now himself a victim of that development, while
a professor of urban planning fantasizes about an underground city.

How will people in Shanghai continue to find space for the many new immigrants, and what does growth mean for the city’s relationship with its own history?

These questions are among those reflected upon via the films two main characters: Xixan Xu, a passionate amateur photographer, who has spent a lifetime documenting the changes the city has undergone, and who himself has become a victim of Shanghai’s development; and Yu Shu, an urban planning professor who fantasizes about a future city underground.

You can see a brief video here:

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2009 10:55 pm

    great site and nice information

  2. January 11, 2010 8:06 pm

    Please visit our website – there is a lot of info and material about the four films


  3. January 11, 2010 8:07 pm

    Sorry – the website is of course “”

  4. Jigar Shah permalink
    February 2, 2010 9:01 pm

    Where can we get to see the Mumbai documentary? A friend of mine saw it at a film festival in Gothenburg, Sweden… but not sure how we can watch it in the US.

    • John Perretti permalink
      May 1, 2010 7:00 pm

      Did anyone ever respond to you about how to see this series in the US on a computer? I saw it on TV but cannot find a link so I can share this series with friends.


  1. Cities on speed | Lieu Pham

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