Why can't we afford to live in our cities?

PUSH is a new documentary from award-winning director Fredrik Gertten, investigating why we can’t afford to live in our own cities anymore. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition to a safe and healthy life. But in cities all around the world, having a place to live is becoming more and more difficult. Who are the players and what are the factors that make housing one of today’s most pressing world issues?   

In Harlem, New York, we meet a man who spends 90% of his income on a flat. Soon, the two-bedroom will cost 3600 USD per month. His 1.700-unit housing project has just been bought by a huge private equity fund. In Barcelona, Ahmed and his family are the last left in their building where all other apartments are sealed off. The new owner has been pushing all of their neighbours out. In London, people talk about ‘bank boxes in the sky’; new condo buildings and flats sold on international fairs as investment pieces. Now many apartments in these shiny new buildings stand empty. 

Enter Leilani Farha, of Ottawa, Canada. She has just sent her kids off to school when she receives an email with a startling graph. It shows the extreme difference between housing prices and wage development over a twenty year period. In the Greater Toronto Area, housing prices have increased at three times the rate of income. With a background in advocacy for the homeless, Leilani has for the past three years been the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, with the right to hold governments accountable if they don’t meet the human rights obligations in the UN Human Rights Charter. 

She believes that if we really want to make change to ensure people can live in the city – all people; rich, middle and poor, brown, black and white, young and old – then we have to be  able to hold someone responsible for what is going on. She wants to confront the very idea of what the experts call the “financialisation” of the housing market. “There’s a huge difference between housing as a commodity and gold as a commodity”.

Push will follow Leilani’s quest to understand the radical change that cities all over the world are now being confronted with. 


Housing affordability is decreasing at a record pace. The local working and middle classes have become unable to afford housing in major cities across the world. London, New York, Hong Kong, Toronto, Tokyo, Valparaiso, Sydney, Melbourne, Caracas, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm… the list seems endless. People are being pushed out of their very own homes – because living in them has become unaffordable.

Young people are getting trapped in a cycle of renting apartments that are becoming less and less affordable. Working class and lower income communities face evictions and are left without a place to live. The high cost of housing pushes people into poverty and homelessness. In the UK and US, for instance, homelessness is increasing by alarming rates. More often than before, it is children and families that end up without a home. The problem is even worse in the Global South, where the number of people living in informal housing is projected to exceed 1 billion by 2020. However, the crisis also puts stress on the middle and upper-middle classes. In London, for example, even a doctor’s salary is not necessarily enough to buy a home.

This isn’t a natural, inevitable development. It can change.
Residents should be able to afford to live in their own cities. It is time to recognise that housing is a human right, not a commodity. Let’s push back.


Leilani Farha

With a background in advocacy for the homeless, Leilani has for the past three years been the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, with the right to hold governments accountable if they don’t meet the human rights obligations in the UN Human Rights Charter. She believes that if we really want to make change to ensure people can live in the city, then we have to be able to hold someone responsible for what is going on.

Saskia Sassen

Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, has studied the impacts of globalization for 40 years and coined the term “global cities”.
Sassen helps us to understand why an empty apartment is sometimes a better asset than its use as a home. She describes the investments in housing as high-end land grabs.

Joseph Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economy, explains how the private equity firms managed to grow throughout every crisis in the financial system, ending up becoming the biggest landlords in the world. Stiglitz also explains the big shift in history when the deregulation of the financial markets opened the floodgates for investors.

Roberto Saviano

Roberto Saviano, Italian journalist and author of Gomorra, was forced into hiding after exposing the business side of organized crime. “Tax havens are where criminal capitalism and legal capitalism meet and merge. Mafia organizations were the first to create and facilitate money-laundering mechanisms through tax havens.”



Fredrik Gertten, Director is an award-winning director and journalist based in Malmö, Sweden, and owner and manager of the production company WG Film which he founded in 1994. Previously he worked as a foreign correspondent and columnist for radio, TV and press in Africa, Latin America, Asia and around Europe. Today he combines filmmaking with a role as a creative producer at WG Film. Recent films include BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!*, world premiere Sundance 2012, BIKES VS CARS, world premiere SXSW 2015 and BECOMING ZLATAN, world premiere IDFA 2016. His films have met audiences in 100 countries, including leading festivals. In Sweden the sale of FairTrade bananas went from 5 to 50 per cent of the sales after the release of the BANANAS!* films. In October 2017 he was named Honorary Doctor at Malmö University’s Faculty of Culture and Society, for his work as a documentary filmmaker.

Margarete Jangård, Producer and managing the production company WG Film in cooperation with Fredrik Gertten. Worked with WG Film since 2003 with films like, DEAD DONKEYS FEAR NO HYENA, BECOMING ZLATAN, BIKES vs CARS, BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!*, BANANAS!*, I BOUGHT A RAINFOREST and more. All projects supported by Creative Europe. Margarete focuses on creative documentaries and through the years has widened hers and WG Film’s network across worldwide, where she has become a well-reputed producer of creative documentaries.

Erik Wall Bäfving, Editor was born in 1973 in Malmo, Sweden, and has been working as a director and editor since 1996. In addition to directing documentaries he is working as a narrative consultant and editor for both documentary and feature films. Fredrik and Erik have a long history together, having first started working together almost 20 years ago. Since then, Erik has edited a number of WG Film documentaries, including I Bought a Rainforest and Belfast Girls.

Janice d’Avila, DOP has a degree in Cinema from ECA-USP and has worked as a camera assistant in several feature films and commercials since 1996.
Director of Photography since 2010, she curates the photo of films such as Elena, by Petra Costa, Estela Renner’s Lifetime, Never Dreamed of Me and White Tarot by Coco Rhoden, several branded content films and commercials for big brands and series such as HBO , Netflix, NatGeo, UFC Channel and Globo.

Iris Ng, DOP is recognized as a versatile cinematographer who lends her patience, creativity, intuition, and skill to bring a director’s vision to the screen. She is known for her work on Sarah Polley’s multi award-winning documentary Stories We Tell (2012), and for collaborating with award-winning directors on a variety of documentaries and films for artists. 
Along with her co-credit on the 4-time Emmy Award-winning documentary series Making A Murderer, other recent work includes Migrant Dreams which won the Hiller Prize for Journalism in 2017, A Better Man (Hot Docs, DOC NYC 2017), Michelle Latimer’s short film NUUCA (TIFF, Sundance, and The Berlin Film Festival), and Sandi Tan’s Sundance Award-winning Shirkers. Website: http://iriscinematography.com/


PUSH is my journey to understand why life in our cities is getting so unaffordable. For two
years I filmed with Leilani Farha, we had daily Whatsapp chats discussing the issue. Early
on it was clear that we were lacking a language to describe the ongoing development.
Words like gentrification are not sharp enough at describing the issue. It’s a global disease
when homes are turned into assets in a financial game. 

The gentrification talk creates a divide. Blaming a hip coffee shop or an art gallery for pushing
out the poor is just silly. There are other – much stronger forces in action. If citizens and
politicians want to push back the invasion of speculative money from hedge funds and criminals,
we need a deeper understanding.

My hope is that PUSH will form a platform for better conversation. That people in countries
around the world realise that the development in their town is not unique. There’s a global
pattern, a business model repeated over and over again. A new kind of landlord, a hedge
fund whose customers are not the tenants but the investors. PUSH is now out on a global
journey, at cinemas and festivals. Everywhere, I meet people who through the film now feel
less lonely. Just more angry.

Follow Fredrik Gertten


Brought to you by WG Film AB
Västergatan 22a, 21121 Malmö, Sweden
Phone +46 (0)40 78150
Email: push@wgfilm.se



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