Divide in Concord

I’ve been thinking lately about my “latter years”. In part, it’s the passing of a dear friend who spent the last few years of his life living with dementia. In part, it’s because I’ll be fffff fffff fifty next year. Last night I’ve concluded I’d like to spend my “latter years” as Jean Hill, the bottled water campaigner in the American town of Concord, featured in the movie “Divide In Concord”.

In the film, Jean explains she reached a point in her life (in her 70s/80s), after the death of her husband, when she suddenly realised she no longer had to care for others. Everything in her life was about her, and about what her legacy would be. The film tells of a moment where her grandson told her about the amount of plastic waste now found in the world’s oceans.

“Other films have told the story of the environmental problems of plastic”, the film-maker told us in a Q&A at the US/Canadian Film Festival last night in Sydney. In contrast, Jean’s story is a more personal one: about how someone realised the connection between a bigger story and what they could do on an individual level. In a small town in Massachusetts, Jean embarked on a campaign to ban bottled water.

The small town, Concord (apparently) has an important part in the history of the independence movement in the America. On a micro-level, the documentary also notes other small town “revolutionary movements”, such as the woman who defended the rights of people to put their laundry out to dry (in defiance of body corporate laws which prohibit such things) and in the case of Jean’s campaign against bottled water. The earlier “revolutionary movements” are located in the context of the annual town meetings in Concord, where people can bring issues to the broader community for discussion and voting.

Jean brings the issue of banning bottled water to the annual debate twice, and then finally a third time, which is ultimately the film’s conclusion. Really, there are only two ways the film can end: either she wins or loses. No spoiler alerts in this review :)

Whether she won or lose, the film’s compelling because of the story. It’s classic David vs Goliath.

But it’s also a really important story about how people can make a direct connection between broader issues and personal action. A small town banning bottled water won’t make much of a difference. But when lots of small towns do the same thing, it CAN make a difference. That’s the reason why bottled water business interests, and people with a pro-business philosophical perspective in the community of Concord, became so interested in what was happening with Jean’s campaign.

What’s happened since the film was made, after the decision was taken in 2012? According to the film-maker at last night’s Q&A, a further couple of votes have been taken, and the community, once evenly divided on the issue, has “moved on” and voted decisively in one way. No spoiler alerts.

It’s a lovely film. I really love Jean Hill’s passion, even if she was possibly sometimes her own worst enemy in the debate. “I really stuffed that up”, she says (or words to that effect) after a radio interview in which she lost her cool. I think the occasional bout of losing your temper is quite okay, especially if/when I make it to my 80s I have as much passion as Jean demonstrates.

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