“Breathtaking” Cape Town documentary wins prestigious international award

23 April 2020

Content - Film

After the prestigious World Press Photo Awards ceremony conducted online from Amsterdam on Thursday 16 April 2020, it was announced that SCENES FROM A DRY CITY, a short documentary film on the recent water shortage in Cape Town, made by two of South Africa’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers, Simon Wood and Francois Verster and described as “breathtaking”, won the World Press Photo Online Video of the Year award.

The World Press Photo Awards is widely acknowledged as one of the highest tokens of recognition granted to documentary stills photography and filmmaking around the globe.

SCENES FROM A DRY CITY, commissioned by Field of Vision in the US, reflects on the water crisis in Cape Town from different societal perspectives. “We thought this would be an unusual opportunity to gain insight into inequality in Cape Town ,” says Verster.


The film consciously employs a cinematic rather than journalistic storytelling approach and has been widely commended for its cinematography, editing, sound design and use of music. This year’s chair of the contest, Zoeann Murphy, also a visual journalist at The Washington Post, praised the film for its “breathtaking camera work, saying the “artistry is amazing” and that it “makes climate change a little less abstract”.

At the online awards ceremony co-director and co-cinematographer Simon Wood expressed his surprise and joy at the film winning the award: “I was completely stunned when I discovered we had won The World Press Photo Award. It was a prize I had often dreamt of but never thought I would be fortunate to win,” he said.

The film premiered at the world’s foremost documentary festival IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) in November 2018 and has since screened at over 60 festivals around the globe, garnering a number of accolades that include Best Mini Doc at the Big Sky Film Festival, the Benedetto Senni award at the Terra di Tutti Film Festival, the Best Environmental Film award at the Kendal Mountain Festival, shortlisted for an International Documentary Association Award in Los Angeles and a Vimeo Staff Pick selection. It is one of the most widely screened short documentaries to come from South Africa to date.

The film brings together the directorial and camera skills of two acclaimed documentary makers. Verster is known for his Emmy-award winning A LION’S TRAIL and films including PAVEMENT ARISTOCRATS, SEA POINT DAYS, WHEN THE WAR IS OVER, THE MOTHERS’ HOUSE and THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD. Wood is known for his films FORERUNNERS, ORBIS and THE SILENT FORM.

Normally, the winning works of the World Press Photo Awards would go on an international tour to nine countries and 15 galleries. Given the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, the institution is currently working on an alternative distribution plan, details of which will be released soon.

The film is available for free viewing here