Divide in Concord is a typical tale of a sweet old lady trying to make her small town a better place, except her small town was ground zero for the American Revolution and the new empire she’s fighting is bottled water.
Jean Hill of Concord, Mass. was on a mission. She wanted her town to ban bottled water, and the course of this documentary by Kris Kaczor follows her third attempt to make it happen. The film not only treats us to the enormous character that is Jean Hill, but reinforces the true struggle of grassroots politics and the idea that one person, no matter their age, can still make a difference.
Jean is quite and candid, but many of the people in Concord think she’s off her proverbial rocker. If her article passes, Concord will be the first town in the United States to ban bottled water. Kaczor does a good job of presenting all sides of the debate, but it’s pretty clear that Jean and her partner in politicking Jill are the heroes of the show. Not that this is a heroic quest where victory is always assured. In fact, the 2012 vote went down to defeat by seven votes, and the 2013 townhall meeting promises to be just as narrow a margin for victory. So what is a civically-minded grandmother to do?
Kaczor’s cameras follow Jean as she takes to the streets, going house by house and trying to collect the requisite signatures to bring her motion forward. That irascibleness and perseverance make Jean a compelling character, and I have a feeling that even outside the politics of bottle water, people will be cheering her on.
But if Jean’s the hero, Adriana Cohen is certainly the villain. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the filmmaker illustrates her background in civic action with pictures of her with John McCain and Mitt Romney, or that her interviews are frequently reduced to Republican talking points like “job creators” and “this is about freedom.” Either way, the business woman is the perfect foil for Jean. It doesn’t do much for objectivity to play Cohen so one-dimensionally, but it does reinforce the point of view of our hero and her struggle, and it doesn’t hurt to give the always omnipresent corporations a face and a voice.
If there’s a secondary villain, it’s Jim Crosby, the owner of the local grocery store. With his bad comb-over and tendency to stick to the back row and dark corner in meetings, he gets painted as the absentee landlord. He’s against the ban as it will affect his business, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t even live in Concord. Although organizations like International Bottled Water Association do get name dropped, the focus is firmly on the local players; a Concord issue being decided by Concordians.
Considering Divide in Concord, one wonders if this will be as polarizing a movie as the issue at its centre is polarizing to the people of Concord. If the recent search for the missing Malaysian plane proved anything, it’s that the ocean is full of garbage, and a lot of that garbage is plastic. Water already comes out of the tap for free, but beverage companies have the general public convinced that bottled water is cleaner and healthier. By the time we get to the town meeting, Jean’s encountered so many doubters that you’re about as expletive prone as the woman herself. But then again, that’s if you’re on Jean’s side in the debate.
While the bottle water issue is extremely political, it’s hard to say if politics is the point of Divide in Concord. Jean’s issue could be about potholes, or acid raid, or high taxes, it doesn’t matter. Kaczor celebrates the achievement of the individual, their personal endurance to make a reality something they believe in, and using their passion to convince others in order to make a difference.
Jean’s 84 years old and she just made history by a margin of 64 votes, so get ready to walk out of the theatre with big plans of your own.
Divide in Concord is a winning political documentary that celebrates the people more than the politics.