As wages are stagnating, the price of urban life continues to rise across the globe. Director Fredrik Gertten’s new documentary PUSH follows UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she meets with people from around the world who are struggling to afford housing.
PUSH presents interviews with disaffected tenants, city mayors, and experts in international economics, connecting the several stories to the main issue. The film does not focus on one city, but on many. We follow Farha everywhere from Harlem to Seoul. The wide variety of perspectives very effectively put us in the shoes of Farha as she tries to come to a greater understanding of why housing inequality is such a big issue in many cities today.
Since the film spends so much time with Farha, it’s a good thing that she is a very compelling subject. Her passion for the cause endears us to her and to everyone she fights for. We also see the frustrations she faces within the UN and with large companies profiting from the current system. From UN delegates ignoring her to Presidents of Real Estate companies refusing to meet with her, the struggles Farha faces help us to empathise with her and believe in her cause.
One way Gertten connects the viewer with the topic is through the cinematography. It excellently captures the details of each city Farha visits. As we see the forces that are profiting off of displacing communities, Gertten also takes time to show small moments of joy that make those communities so powerful. We see a neighbor waving goodbye to children on their way to school, two men having a cup of coffee together, and a family relaxing on their couch. Though there are some points where the film drags, the editing and pacing keep us engaged throughout while the cinematography connects us with the circumstances each subject is facing.
A larger issue with PUSH is that it does not have much focus on history. Housing inequality such as redlining and segregation in the United States and other nations is touched on, but not discussed in much detail. The majority of people Farha meets with over the course of the film are white, and little time is devoted to discussing these points with POC. Though the documentarians might have felt unqualified to discuss such topics, I believe it could have strengthened their message to point out how the housing market has always been unequal.
Considering how world events are affecting many people’s ability to pay their rent, this film has become even more pertinent to our current situation. Though the message could have been stronger if it delved more into the history of housing and included more diverse voices, I would still recommend PUSH. It makes a strong case that the housing crisis should be taken seriously.