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“Hate is almost like a drug,” writer and director of the documentary “Stars and Strife,” David Smick said.

In a conversation with Variety film awards editor Clayton Davis, Smick and executive producer Barry Levinson discussed the central message of “Stars and Strife,” which examines the swell of anger and hatred in American culture and partisanship through interviews with activists, elected officials and other prominent figures.

“The whole country is facing a hate epidemic,” Smick said. “And I got very worried about the future of our country when you see the lack of empathy, a lack of any goodwill toward each other.”

Smick has seen the Capitol up close, working in international finance in Washington D.C. for 40 years. He said he became keenly aware of the division fomenting in the country and set a course to secure help from an established filmmaker to realize his vision.

“I think the documentary, and why I responded to it, is that it deals with the human condition, and this is where we are,” Levinson said. “And it’s not just facts and things, and this is our viewpoint, period. What do we do? What do we do to just move ahead in the 21st century, with some common mission?”

Unlike similar documentaries about partisanship, Smick said he wanted to differentiate his story by focusing on compromise, both historically and presently.

“I was not interested in just a Kumbaya film, where we all get together … I wanted to provide some substance in the film,” Smick said.

The filmmakers wanted the doc to be forward-looking, offering a future that was hopeful and attuned to progress. Additionally, Smick and Levinson wanted to highlight empathy and understanding as pathways for enacting this change.

“We’re just angry, and we lash out at all of these particular things,” Levinson said. “And in the end, it’s counterproductive because we’re not ultimately moving ahead with the massive amounts of problems that this country has. We’re ignoring them while we’re basically pointing fingers at one another.”

The film is not a cynical piece, Smick said, and included comedic elements through silent film-era humor and animation. “I [wanted] levity. This cannot just be an economics lecture — nobody will watch it.”