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DocGeeks » Interviews » Katharine Round talks about the struggle of filming The Divide

Katharine Round talks about the struggle of filming The Divide

Katharine RoundFresh from the London screening of her new documentary and getting a warm welcome from the critics, director Katharine Round speaks about the challenge of turning a book of numbers and analysis into an emotional journey, an edit so demanding it took a room covered in colour coded post-it notes to complete, and tackling an issue that is becoming more and more relevant by the day. Hannah Gal interviews the filmmaker behind The Divide.


Judging by the positive feedback, the film’s message is getting through to audiences loud and clear?

“The subject of inequality has been on the world’s agenda for a long time now, what I did is put a face on the many figures and graphs, and show how it actually affects people. We took it from the abstract to the personal so it shows people that it is not dry economics but that it is actually about our lives.”

How do you research such a vast topic? both in terms of expert commentary and the seven characters you have selected?

“It was a long process actually. The documentary started with The Spirit Level, a book which is essentially a collection of graphs and data analysis, a format that could not be more different from a film. I thought about how economic division tears down society and wanted to create an intimate and psychological story, it turned out to be an enormous task.

“It was important to get to know the characters in the film and to show how the divide has affected each one. Ultimately, I looked at sectors of the economy most affected by inequality so we see a fast food worker in America, a Walmart worker who used to own her own business, then we move through ideas of technological change, showing how each character was affected by these changes.

“When it came to experts it was a case of talking to people who have been doing studies in the field, they had to be people involved in either policy, decision, or conducted research. We talk to Alan Budd for example, who was an advisor to the Thatcher government and very heavily influenced the policies of the early 80’s, when we hear his insights and his thoughts on his policies it really is quite meaningful.”

How did the choice of combining the UK and the US come about?

“I originally thought it would be a country comparison showing different levels of inequality in several countries but that became very difficult. I ended up looking at two countries that followed the same sort of inequality pattern. This is a greater issue in the US of course but we can see the same trends happening here. It generates in the US but it looked to me like this is the path we in the UK are currently following.”

How did you feel about the different UK and US society structure in the context of the film? The UK’s benefits system being one issue that comes to mind.

“The film really isn’t looking at the individual choices or if they could have done things differently, it is more about how our fate is shaped by the environment we are in. What a British mother in our film is experiencing for example when it comes to paying for school dinners is a pressure to keep up and buy nice clothes for the children so they are accepted at school, it is about the pressure felt by people in the film. The system expects us to make perfect decisions but we don’t, we all make mistakes.”
Am I right in assuming this was a massive editing job?

“Absolutely. I was lucky to work with the incredibly talented editor John Mister. We had to break down each of the characters’ narratives and strands, not only for each character but how each will fit into the big narrative. We have a picture somewhere of the edit floor covered in colour coded post-it notes we worked around as we were editing, it was one of those banging your head against the wall kind of processes. Ultimately it was about us making the characters jell together and make it work as a film.”

Did you leave cameras running even when you were not around or were you always present?

“I was pretty much always there. I wanted it to be quite filmic, it had to be intimate but also big in scale so what we did is use the same motives for all characters, we filmed people in the same location and in a similar style. Everyone is filmed in the bathroom for example and their car, also the camera is on the ceiling when they are sleeping. It was about catching moments that reveal a lot about the characters but keep an observational overall sense, no one is really acting.”

Many found the story of the American prisoner truly shocking to watch, which character did you yourself feel best illustrates The Divide’s message?

“In terms of utter craziness I think the prison was the point at which I was most despondent while I was making the film. There is very little that can be done for him and his situation was truly shocking. It is not something I will ever forget.

“The hour I spent with him will always be one of the most intense moments of my life. It does illustrate how much you can kind of demonize the population. There was a growing fear of crime and Bill Clinton passed the Three Strike Law but it is that inequality that is driving some of that criminal behaviour in the first place.”

Finally, the film’s timing is amazing, from the Panama papers to Bernie sanders’ manifesto. Are you happy or sad about this fact?

“I predicted the Panama papers you know…No, I’m only joking. What we see is the film’s inequality message becoming more and more relevant with every day that goes by.


The Divide is currently screening in UK cinemas. For details of screenings, please visit the film’s website.


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