By Matthew Taub
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief
In an age of increasing political apathy, a new documentary demonstrates how a single concerned citizen can take a stand to make change. “Divide in Concord,” premiering Monday at IFC Center, is about a small New England town’s consideration of novel legislation that would prohibit the sale of bottled water. Brooklyn Brief spoke to Kris Kaczor, the Brooklyn filmmaker behind the project.
Brooklyn Brief: Tell us about “Divide in Concord,” your first feature film.
Kris Kaczor: It’s a story about Concord, Massachusetts, the first town in the world to attempt to enact legislation to ban the sale of single-serve bottled water. It’s revolutionary in a sense, certainly a precedent-setting moment for the bottled water industry, which is an interesting entity in itself. It’s the third largest billion dollar industry in the world.
BB: Bottled water seems ubiquitous, but it’s also a very recent phenomenon in terms of our popular culture. Did you learn a lot about this industry in producing the film?
KK: Absolutely. There’s a character in the film, Mary White, who said it best: “An industry that did not exist 40 years ago is now the third largest industry in the world, only behind electricity and oil.” A large argument for the initiative was that bottled water was destroying the public aquifers and draining them, eroding the ability of the public to retain rights to their own water sources.
BB: How did the idea for the film come about?
KK: It was all spearheaded by an 84-year-old woman named Jean Hill. She’s a fiery octogenarian, she doesn’t take no for an answer. And this was her third attempt to pass this legislation. Her grandson Mac inspired her when he told her about the great pacific garbage patch. Doing further research, she realized that bottled water was a big contaminant to the environment, as only twenty percent of the bottles are recycled. With 1,500 consumed a second in the U.S. alone, 80 percent of this plastic either goes to a landfill or the ocean.
BB: Did you reach out to opponents of the initiative, like the bottled water industry? What did they have to say?
KK: We wanted to talk to some heads of the industry — we reached out to different representatives at Nestle, Poland Spring — but no one called us back. We also attempted to get in touch with the International Bottled Water Association, but with no luck. So our “con” arguments in the story come from residents in the town who did not want the ban to happen.
BB: What were the arguments of the residents, both for and against the legislation?
KK: The arguments would go far and wide, with different tangents, but often boiled down to individual liberty versus environmental preservation. The opponents said their rights should be protected to buy a legally safe product. They really felt there was an important personal choice at stake, as a consumer. For those in favor of the initiative, they wanted to set a precedent for environmental preservation. There was one gentleman, a teacher at the high school who stood up during a town meeting, who said, “What we’re doing here, every town will be doing in 15 years. Someone has to do it first; why shouldn’t it be us?” There was also a high school student who said, “I want you to hand down a better and cleaner world to me when I grow up.”
Everyone was very sincere and wanted to have their voices heard. We wanted to talk to everyone and let them say what they wanted to say. We explained that we were only there to make an objective documentary.
BB: What was the town itself like?
KK: Concord was a very interesting town. It’s the home of the American Revolution, and home of a literary revolution with Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne, with the transcendentalist movement emphasizing a return to nature. Concord is where the “shot heard ’round the world” rang out, triggering the revolution. Jean said she wanted to send out the “second shot heard ’round the world” with her initiative.
Praised by Michael Moore, the Huffington Post, Boston Globe and more, “Divide in Concord” will make its NYC debut at the nation’s largest documentary film festival, DOC NYC Film Festival, on Nov. 17. The 82-minute documentary will be one of 130 films featured at the eight-day film festival, and will be shared with over 100 special celebrity guests.