2016 Interview with “Divided We Fall” Director Katherine Acosta

Katherine Acosta, director of the riveting documentary Divided We Fall discussed capturing the emotion of the 2011 Madison Protests with Submissions Director, Catherine Woods.


C: In telling a highly emotional nonfiction story, how do you keep your personal feelings compartmentalized enough to tell the story in an unbiased way?

K: First of all, I reject the dichotomy of reason and emotion.  I think both need to travel together for us to be full human beings.  Outrage at injustice, for example, motivates one to act; reason then should be brought to bear to analyze the injustice and figure out how to right it.  Emotion keeps us going when the going gets rough.  It keeps us focused on our ideals.  As Harriet Rowan says in our film, the feeling of community and camaraderie generated by the Occupation kept people coming back.  It was a major factor in sustaining the capitol occupation.

If I didn’t have such a passion for this project, I would never have been able to finish it.  Reason alone wouldn’t have carried me through.   In fact, I’m glad I didn’t know how difficult the task would be before I began, else I would never have tried it!  I always say that my motivation for making the film is that the next time we get tens of thousands of people in the streets for weeks at a time, I want to win something for it!

Reason comes into play when I focus the analysis not on the Walker administration or corporate money in politics – other books and movies have done that already – but instead on ourselves.  The Uprising was exhilarating – it’s painful to look at the failures – yet we have to if we want to figure out how to be more successful next time.


C: So many people were a part of these protests, and yet they were in many ways disorganized and difficult to navigate. How did you begin to approach gathering all of the initial research that would put together the thread of the story? Did you find yourself realizing pieces of information later that then connected some of the missing puzzle pieces?


K: I think a lot of doc filmmakers – anybody who does social research – finds that the story evolves as they get new information and as unexpected opportunities arise.  Originally, I had planned to look at one divide – the one between rural/urban voters in Wisconsin.  Come to find out, Professor Katherine Cramer has already done that work, and very well.  We did a long interview with her, but because the film took a different turn, we didn’t use much of it.  However, we will put an edited version of her interview as a special feature on the DVD because I think it is so important to understand the perspective of ordinary folks at the opposite end of the political spectrum.

It was by luck that I met Michael Billeaux, a TAA activist and former co-president of that union, who was centrally involved in the capitol occupation.  He connected me with other TAA activists and I began to realize that the more interesting story was the dynamics of the Uprising itself.

The TAs were also the ones most willing to offer a critical analysis in interviews.  As scholar-activists centrally involved in the capitol occupation, they are ideally positioned to give an analytical account of what happened.  So I decided to tell the story primarily from their perspectives.  I should say that it also helped that they were all sociologists and that is my training as well.  We were able to have some great conversations because we spoke the same language.

C: How did the Occupy Movement, which began just a few months after the Madison protests, influence the production of the documentary, if at all?

K: I was fascinated by the Occupy movement, but I don’t think it influenced the production of the film.  The Uprising here was a profound experience for me – and for many who participated.  That was enough to inspire me to try making a film.


C: This is your first film. Do you have plans to continue pursuing a career in documentary filmmaking? Do you have any future films currently in the works?

K: We only just finished this one, so no, nothing else in the works yet!  But I’m feeling empowered by having finished this one.  I always had a secret desire to try filmmaking, but I thought it was just a pipe dream.  Now I’m thinking I want to continue – and about what topics I want to pursue.