Film Reviews

REVIEW: Divide in Concord

Hot Docs 2014

Divide in Concord
USA, 82 min.
Directed by Kris Kaczor
Programme: World Showcase (World Premiere)

Perhaps because I carry a reusable water bottle every day, Divide in Concord struggles to convince me that banning personal plastic water bottles poses a benefit to society. The film suggests a battle for democracy wages in the American microcosm of Concord, Massachusetts. This frustrating documentary tells about 84-year old Concord resident Jean Hill and her admirable, if bullheaded, crusade to prohibit the sale of bottled water. She calls herself a warrior and, as Concord readies itself for its third vote on her proposal, Jean refuses to go down without a fight.

Divide in Concord presents both perspectives on the bottled water battle as it introduces townspeople opposed to Jean’s cause. Adriana Cohen, for example, makes clear and persuasive arguments that banning the healthiest beverage available in plastic bottles is illogical and infringes on a person’s basic right to water. Storeowner Jim Crosby, alternatively, suggests that consumers should have the right to choose which products they buy. Director Kris Kaczor gives Jean’s opponents comparatively less screen time than he affords her campaign supporters, including an artist who steals water bottles from his neighbours’ recycle bins to sculpt a piece that argues people aren’t committed to recycling bottles, but Jean’s opponents make stronger impressions. Jean and her supporters struggle to provide cohesive counterarguments for why thirsty consumers should be forced to buy soft drinks when water is the healthier option.

There is no debate in Divide in Concord. Rather, the film presents a polarizing fight of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ Jean and her supporters, for example, simply will not debate the merits of their case. They confront their neighbors and call then ‘fascists’ and other derogatory terms if they disagree.

The film’s most troubling scene occurs when Adriana goes on a radio show and invites Jean to defend her case. Divide in Concord, however, shows not a debate but instead presents a one-sided perspective as the camera holds on Jean as she refuses to engage with counterarguments. She literally has a physical reaction when asked to debate her cause. Rather than interrogate Jean’s obstinacy, though, the film opts for an emotionally inflammatory image of an octogenarian putting her health at serious risk while her unseen adversary bullies her from afar.

The sensational presentation of Jean’s case bypasses fruitful deliberation and instead sharpens pre-existing opinions as sides are drawn along emotional lines. The film’s polarizing recreation of Concord’s divide suggests that a personal battle, if fought short-sightedly, precipitates a greater war.

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