‘The Great Divide’ documentary tackles the gun debate in Colorado
There is perhaps no more polarizing subject in American politics than the discussion around how to resolve our issues of gun violence and gun control throughout the country. An all-out war between rural vs. urban, left vs. right, and red states vs. blue states has been waged by politicians, lobbyists, and media outlets intent on making their point of view heard and felt — yet the country is no closer to finding a middle ground.
A documentary film making its world premiere at Aspen Film’s 44th annual Filmfest on Thursday, “The Great Divide,” takes on the hot-button topic by examining the origins of violence in America, from its roots in slavery and Native American genocide to the modern-day epidemic of mass shootings. While the subject is pertinent in all 50 states, the filmmakers set their sights and cameras specifically on Colorado.
“When we agreed to work on this project, we knew right away, we couldn’t tell a conventional gun violence story or even a conventional story of school shootings — that story is often retreaded,” said Producer Ilan Arboleda. “We knew that we would approach it differently. Colorado is a microcosm for this bigger issue.”
Indeed, the film, which was written and directed by veteran filmmaker Tom Donahue, and in which the title is a word play on not only the political divides of the state, but also the notion of the divide between the Front Range and the Western Slope, aims to broaden the conversation by including a diverse set of voices throughout the film.
From a parent who lost a child in a school shooting to a teenage gun reform activist, an unapologetic right-wing lobbyist to indigenous voices in Colorado recalling the Sand Creek Massacre, the film takes the audience on an emotional journey through the state as each makes their case for or against guns.
Donahue said that was by design because it was important to him to keep the film as fair and balanced as possible and to show a variety of perspectives around the debate.
He also said he was surprised by what he learned about himself in the Centennial State.
“It was the indigenous perspective that really blew me away,” he said. “For me, the Native American voices were just powerful and eloquent. Their stories are rarely told, so we had to give them this platform and tell American history from their point of view. My own shame of not having known about the Sand Creek Massacre was big. The fact that I don’t know about that part of my history is really the whole point of or the takeaway of the film.”
Concurrently the film follows the legislative battle in 2019 in the Colorado State Senate over a proposed “red flag” law that dives into the politics and lobbying that goes on behind the scenes.
So-called red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, allow the state to restrict access or even remove firearms from people deemed a risk by “family or household member or a law enforcement officer established by clear and convincing evidence that a person poses a significant risk to self or others by having a firearm in his or her custody.”
Traditionally, those who are pro-gun reform are pro-red flag laws, while Second Amendment activists are vehemently opposed. But how does that play out in a state like Colorado that exhibits shades of purple?
“My approach is always listening to as many voices as I can,” said Donahue. “And then you have to kind of connect all the dots between all these voices figuring out what the truth is — or at least what you think the truth is. We believe the audience will be compelled along the journey, as well, and hopefully, a lot of people will come along for the ride. And, maybe it’ll shift some perspective.”
“The Great Divide” will have its world premiere at Filmfest at 12 p.m. on Thursday at the Aspen Film Isis Theatre followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. For tickets and a full schedule, visit aspenfilm.org.