The Dividing Line

The Dividing Line – a film by Mark Vernon (UK, 2014)

The Dividing Line is a film about the people of Plymouth and their relationship to the Tamar; the river that divides Devon and Cornwall. More importantly, it is a portrait of one specific riverside community and their complex historical ties with the Navy. Barne Barton is a housing estate on the outskirts of Plymouth overlooking the naval base. It was built originally as married quarters for naval families. The film documents the difficult transition from MOD to civilian housing and the many changes that have taken place in the area over the years. The story is told through the voices of the people who live and work there using present day oral histories and archival film to create an audio- visual snapshot of a community that will hopefully enable a better understanding of how this area’s history has directly influenced its present. It is also a celebration of the green spaces, community spirit and naval heritage of a remarkably situated housing estate.

Barne Barton is often referred to as an island because of its isolation from the rest of Plymouth. Essentially it is a peninsula with one main road in and out of the area. As former MOD housing, the estate lacked much of the infrastructure that would normally be considered essential for such social housing. It is an area suffering from social deprivation with wide spread poverty, unemployment and many of the other problems inherent with these conditions. In addition to this, the proximity of the naval base and the fact that the vast majority of the shoreline is owned by the MOD means that whilst many residents have a view of the river there are very few points of actual access to it. Given that the Navy is steadily reducing in size and its need for land is reducing, many local people are frustrated and angry at how heavily restricted their access to this precious resource is.

The Dividing Line attempts to examine some of these issues through first-hand accounts from the people who live in the area, whose work relates to the river or who make use of it for leisure. The film looks at both sides of the line – between Devon and Cornwall, the MOD and the civilian population and the economic divide between rich and poor.

The Dividing Line was made from archive footage sourced from the South West Film and Television Archive with editing and additional footage shot by James Ellwood of Fotonow. It was a joint commission by ‘Take A Part’ and the ‘The River Tamar Project’. The film was screened at a special event in the Barne Barton community and as part of ‘It’s All About the River’ an international film festival on the banks of the Tamar in 2014.

Concept, sound recording and sound design by Mark Vernon.

Additional filming and archive film edit by James Ellwood.