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The Divide - East End Film Festival (preview)

Tuesday 30 June 2015, by Miranda Mungai

An interesting and well-meaning documentary, The Divide presents audiences with a frequently mentioned, though infrequently interrogated, phenomenon- the divide of the rich and the poor in the Western world. The film begins with a quote from Warren Buffett, “the most successful investor of the 20th century": “There’s a class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” This beginning sets us up with the impression that the film promises an explanation of what went wrong here, this ironic quote doing nothing but creating questions. However, these questions unfortunately appear to go unanswered by the film’s end, setting out The Divide in purely human terms rather than presenting a global, structural analysis.

The trajectory that this film follows concentrates on a few extremely wealthy people and a few of the poorest people mostly from America but also with a few from the UK. We follow their struggles as portraits of their home life are presented in tandem with that of their working lives. It is not a film that aims to understand and address the gap that these sets of people face, but it is purely a look at rich people and poor people, doing nothing more than suggesting that this gap could be closed if everyone became rich. It looks at everyone’s struggle but does little to fulfil the promise of the initial quote – it does not suggest why this gap is here. It is the exceptional amounts of sympathy, however, that this film provides those from these seemingly happy, affluent homes that becomes increasingly aggravating. We watch wealthy, stable Jen complain about the mistreatment of her “blonde haired, blue eyed” children in her gated community who are treated as pariahs due to their relative lack of wealth - neighbouring children allegedly run away, screaming. She appears trapped and persecuted- but why not move to another gated community and be the wealthiest family there? Mesmerised by wealth, the film focuses an inordinate amount of time on the lives of the rich until eventually they come to appear shackled and enslaved by their own privilege and greed, another example of society’s ongoing fetishisation of the lives of the rich.

The film is interspersed with interviews with Wall Street analysts, lecturers, and social commentators, including Noam Chomsky, which are the most thought provoking moments in the film, revealing the reality of the problem on a large scale, they seriously discuss and hypothesise The Divide. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between, leaving a yearning to learn more and perhaps pick up a book of Mr. Chomsky’s instead. This film chooses to concentrate on empathising with the ‘struggles’ of the richest more than anything. It’s disturbing that rather than enquiring into the structural causes of poverty, we keep idealising and sympathising with the richest. Perhaps the message that this documentary sends in laymen’s terms is that the poor should just become richer to close the gap rather than presenting an analysis of the original causes of the eponymous Divide.

Dir. Katherine Round, 2015

The Divide is showing as part of the East End Film Festival on July 2nd- tickets and more information here:


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