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Documentary highlights Concord’s battle over plastic bottles

Jean Hill (top) succeeded in her third try at getting Concord to ban single-serving water bottles, but the issue is still a matter of lively debate, with some like Adriana Cohen (below, left) strongly opposed. That fight is depicted by Kris Kaczor, who filmed ban supporters (below right).750 Productions

Jean Hill is fond of saying that she wanted to “fire the second shot heard round the world.” And when Brooklyn filmmaker Kris Kaczor heard about the feisty grandmother’s crusade to ban single-serving bottled water in Concord, he took her at her word.

The result is “Divide in Concord,” a new feature-length documentary that chronicles the town’s widely publicized bottled water debate against a backdrop of Concord’s enduring pride in its historic revolutionary fervor.

Lively scenes of Revolutionary War reenactors make the comparison obvious: The bottled water ban, which passed in 2012 and took effect on Jan. 1, 2013, once again put this quaint little town of 17,000 at the center of a conflict heard around the globe.


In his film, says Kaczor, “the town becomes a character unto itself.” Hill and her chief organizer, Jill Appel, are pitted against advocates for consumers’ freedom of choice, including market owner Jim Crosby and political operative Adriana Cohen.

Many of them recently convened on Martha’s Vineyard, where they continued the debate in a panel discussion in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. “Divide in Concord,” which premiered earlier this year at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, has just screened at Michael Moore’s documentary festival in Traverse City, Mich. Kaczor, speaking by phone from his home in Brooklyn, says he is hoping to get theatrical distribution for the film.

“I think he did a really nice job,” says Crosby, owner of Crosby’s Marketplace, Concord’s main supermarket. “It’s entertaining.”

Crosby does feel the film tilts 60 to 40 in favor of Hill and her supporters, whose victory has inspired similar proposals to ban bottled water in San Francisco, Australia, on the Harvard campus, and elsewhere. “Candidly, I think he favored those folks,” Crosby says. “That’s my opinion.”

Adriana Cohen, who vehemently opposes the Bottled Water Ban, explains why bottled water is necessary.750 Productions

But Kaczor insists that he had no stake in the outcome of the vote, which Hill’s side won after two previous attempts had failed. “We went in with the intention of making an objective documentary,” says Kaczor, who has said he was reading Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” when he learned of Hill’s proposal. “If they lost, we would have made the same film with a different ending,” he said.


Appel says the film should help advance the argument against single-serving plastic bottles, which, supporters say, are a major burden on landfills. Hill got more media attention for her first failed attempt in 2010 than for the victory two years later, Appel says.

“It’s more than we could have ever hoped for,” she says of the outcome and the film. “This team of people took on kind of a monumental task.”

Since the ban went into effect, the town has instituted its Concord on Tap program, making tap water available at various locations to anyone carrying a refillable container.

Crosby says his store is about to install such a “filling station” outside. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” he says.

He does, however, point out that the ban has driven more residents to buy bottled water outside town, “and obviously they’ll do more shopping there. It’s an unlevel playing field in some respects.”

On the sidewalks downtown, it is apparent that the ban has not stopped residents and visitors from smuggling bottled water across the town line. Recycling barrels are full of empty plastic bottles.

Elsewhere in town, retailers have resorted to other methods of catering to customers. Marie Foley, who owns the gift shop Revolutionary Concord and has been a retail owner in the town for 30 years, points out her store’s filling station. Then she produces an 8-ounce plastic bottle of Kirkland water, several of which she keeps on hand to give away to overheated customers. The ban only covers the sale of such bottles, she says. Technically, you can’t be fined for giving it away.


She sees both sides of the argument. “We’re always changing things around here,” she says. “San Francisco may not have thought of it if there hadn’t been such a brouhaha here. It’s always part of the fun to be the first.”

Hill, who is 86, now resides in assisted living after breaking her hip. Yet She has made a remarkable recovery, Kaczor and Appel say. “Her level of perseverance is still strong,” says the filmmaker.

In fact, says Appel, “she’s ready to take on plastic bags.”

James Sullivan can be reached at