A good documentary maker has many talents, but the one that ensures their finished film captures the imagination of an audience is the ability to sense the direction of the Zeitgeist. It takes such a long time to create a documentary that it's essential that after so long that people want to go and see the fruits of your labour. Once you've fought the battle to find funding and get the backing to make a movie, if you're a documentary maker you have to research your contributors, interview them, then choose which will help you tell the story you have pictured for your film. Then you embed yourself into their lives, spending months with each becoming part of the furniture as their life unfolds before you. You repeat this for each of you key characters in your film, fighting to stay an external reporter of their day to day struggles, before returning to your own life which has been on hold throughout your shoot. Next you find a series of talking heads to explain the lives your have recorded and to flesh out your documentary. Once you've finished shooting, it's time to lock yourself into an editing suite to take the hours of footage and shape it slowly into a finished product. If you then add elements like music, graphics and the other finishing touches it can easily take years to create a documentary, so it's pretty important that after all that work the concept behind a movie is one speaks to the audience. If you want to see the embodiment of this process, you have to catch The Divide.
Katherine Round's film explores a key issue of the modern age, the ever growing gap between the "have's" and "have not's", our obsession with wealth and the growing feeling that capitalism isn't working. It is shot beautifully, and this cinematography embraces and cuddles you as you follow the lives of people on both sides of the wealth divide. It is really is a powerful piece, and I actually left the screening with tears in my eyes. Of course Round has found characters at the bottom of the pile who highlight how for so many no matter how hard they work and struggle in our current socio-economic climate, they can only fall further into poverty, but for me it was the lives of those who felt that were at the top of the pile that gave a deeper insight.
Firstly it soon became clear that many of those who thought they had it all, were actually struggling also. Mostly because they were lying to themselves about their true wealth and social position. To see people who were really in the middle of the wealth holders acting like they had it all, and the paranoia and fear of loosing all that they had that stalked their lives as they spent their days and nights trying to appear happy impacted on me deeply. I am sure that many audiences will be stunned to see those who are the electoral power behind those who shaped the global economies reeling under the self imposed pressure of maintaining their position and need to be seen to a member of the "have's". Especially when measured next to those interviewed who really did have it all.
The arrogance of these people stunned even a leftie like me. To hear one of them explain his wealth is deserved due to his being a "producer", and to then illustrate this concept with his ability to father children despite being in his 70's made my jaw drop. I am sure they'd be the first to point the finger at those poor large families as proof of the fecklessness of those at the bottom of the pile, yet could see no irony in holding the ability to breed as evidence of their being deserving of almost unimaginable wealth.
I will admit that I am sure after seeing The Divide, Round holds similar political beliefs as I do. When I attended the press screening it was easy to work out which side of the political spectrum each journo was on by their reactions as the film took us all on a journey through wealth and poverty. The right wing groaned while those on the left clapped and wiped away tears of sympathy. As the credits rolled we filed out into the outside world with our political views reinforced. I think that for most who see The Divide this will be the case, but if it softens a few to the suffering that the runaway greed of the 21st Century is leaving in it's wake then it's done it's job.
I jotted down a few notes while in the screening and one that captures how I felt during the film was that many of those that took part who describe themselves as well off were actually "buying the idea that a little bit more is much more. They are like a large dog standing next to a cat, feeling superior and imagining they have more in common with a bull elephant than the cat". OK, I think I was struck with poetic muse at the time, but it captures the truth at the heart of The Divide. While we all enviously watch each other, our hearts filled with fear over loosing what we have, a very small number of people have so much that we can never imagine just how much that really have. If you want to see The Divide and make your mind up about whether this is a good thing or not, it's touring the UK during this year. I know that it touched my heart and exploded the myth that wealth makes you happy.
THE DIVIDE is in cinemas from 22 April and nationwide on 31st May
Image by permission