By Miles Beauchamp
Circle of Blue
Divide in Concord — a self-funded documentary about the battle to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in Concord, Massachusetts — will have its Michigan premiere at the 10th annual Traverse City Film Festival with two screenings on Saturday, July 26, at Lars Hockstad Auditorium.
Directed by Kris Kaczor, the documentary follows the efforts of two women, Jean Hill and Jill Appel, to pass the first ban of single-serve, non-reusable plastic water bottles in the United States. Hill started her mission after hearing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from her grandson. Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, the patch is created when waste material is trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre in the Pacific Ocean. It is roughly 90 percent plastic and contains over 100 million tons of garbage, making it the largest garbage patch in the world. With 1,500 water bottles being consumed every second in the United States, and less than 20 percent of the bottles being recycled, Hill knew something had to be done about the unnecessary plastic waste being created through the sale of bottled water.
Kaczor is a Michigan native, graduate of The Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, and founder of 750 Productions based in Brooklyn, New York. He first got involved with Hill’s efforts in 2011 after reading about how her ban was denied in 2010. The ban was again defeated in 2011.
“I’ve always been aware of the fact that we are on an unsustainable path, that the choices of consumption are not necessarily helping the world. But it was this story in particular, after learning more about the bottled water industry and the debate in general, that really drew my interest,” Kaczor told Circle of Blue. “I was really interested in the fact than an entire town was divided over this issue.”
Kaczor said he was inspired by Hill’s story and the writing of Henry David Thoreau, a writer and philosopher who sought to find a balance between civilization and nature. Thoreau lived for two years in Concord while writing Walden. Kaczor was worried about Hill’s story being lost, so he contacted her and arranged to shoot a documentary of the entire year leading up to the next vote in 2012.
Kaczor was amazed by the “magic of the town” in Concord.
“We felt at times that Thoreau was directing the film,” he said. “We would wake up and just wait for the next person to call or the story to happen, and it would be so seamless. It was like the thread of the story was just uncovering itself to us. That process was magical.”
Divide in Concord follows a debate that split the town.
“You have this supremely educated base of people that are focused on ideals. People know their facts. People were only speaking if they knew what they were talking about, which was refreshing. The overall debate would come down to free commerce versus the environment,” Kaczor said. “Basically the rights of corporations to make a profit, and for a populous to be able to choose a product that is legal and safe, versus banning a product completely in service of the environment.”
Hill and Appel faced opposition from local merchants, The International Bottled Water Association, and Concord philanthropist Adriana Cohen. Cohen claimed that the ban would be an attack on the freedoms of Americans and argued that bottled water is a harmless and healthy product.
Hill and Appel’s proposed ban was fiercely debated at the 2012 town meeting, with much more individual engagement than in past years. Mary White, a Concord citizen who supported the law, says in the film, “This Article is a revolution. But Concord — we have revolution in our genes.”
On September 5, 2012, Concord became the first community in the nation to approve a ban on plastic water bottles. The law passed by a margin of 39 votes, with 403 votes for and 364 votes against the measure.
Other cities and universities are now starting to follow suit, including San Francisco and Harvard University, continuing the “revolution” against bottled water. In tribute to Concord’s role in the 1776 American Revolution, Hill viewed the bottled water ban as “the second shot heard ’round the world.” Her goal was not just to create a ban in Concord but to create a movement toward a more sustainable future.
“At our current state in history, people are becoming pretty apathetic and pessimistic about our ability to change, and this is a true example of how one person can make a difference, potentially and ultimately at a global level,” Kaczor said.
The Traverse City Film Fest itself has been coincidentally reducing the use of bottled water. Five years ago, the TCFF Water Program switched from selling plastic water bottles to using biodegradable cups, lids, and straws. The TCFF Water Program is going one step further this year, selling reusable bottles that can be filled at water fountains and numerous bottle-filling stations, as well as continuing to sell the biodegradable cups, lids, and straws.
Divide in Concord had its world premiere on April 26, 2014, at Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto where it won Best of 8 Documentaries and was screened shortly after at the Best of Hot Docs Film Fest in Vancouver. It will show at the Traverse City Film Fest in two special “Friends Only” screenings on Saturday, July 26, at 3pm and 9pm in Lars Hockstad Auditorium. Tickets for both shows are sold out.
Miles Beauchamp, an undergraduate student in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, is a Traverse City-based summer intern for Circle of Blue.