The penultimate film in the 2014 Sundance US Documentary Competition closes out today’s doc profiles: Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s RICH HILL, a deeply humanistic look at the lives of three adolescents and their impoverished rural town.
Sundance Program Description:
If you ever find yourself traveling down Interstate 49 through Missouri, try not to blink—you may miss Rich Hill, population 1,396. Rich Hill is easy to overlook, but its inhabitants are as woven into the fabric of America as those living in any small town in the country.
Filmmaking cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo embark upon an immersive and dazzlingly cinematic journey into the lives of Andrew, Harley, and Appachey, three Rich Hill boys navigating the often-treacherous road between childhood and adolescence. Despite the isolation and deprivation of their individual circumstances, they long for the same things we all want: a nice house, dinner on the table, and a healthy, loving family. Droz Tragos and Droz Palermo’s intimate connection to their subjects serves as a window into a too-often bleak environment, where simply getting by is considered a success, but the hope for a normal life and a brighter future persists.
Cousins Palermo and Tragos have a personal connection to town that lends their first collaboration its name – their family lived in the community during its better days. Both are Sundance alumni – Tragos wrote the short THE LAST FULL MEASURE (2005), while Palermo served as cinematographer for last year’s A TEACHER and BLACK METAL, as well as for a segment of V/H/S (2012). Tragos is also an Emmy winner for her previous documentary, BE GOOD, SMILE PRETTY, which screened on Independent Lens, while Palermo was named one of Filmmaker Magazine‘s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” last year. The cousins received support for their project from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film program in 2012. The film’s editor, Jim Hession, is also a Sundance alum, having edited Matthew Akers’ MARINA ABRAMOVIC THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (2012).
Why You Should Watch:
I previously profiled the film during its Kickstarter campaign here. The filmmaking cousins have delivered on the promise of their campaign there, crafting a sensitive, richly observed, and sublimely shot portrait that never descends into poverty porn. In their three subjects, they’ve selected genuine, multi-faceted characters – ones typically under-represented in most media except perhaps on the most surface, and typically negative, level – encouraging a deep sense of identification and empathy, even when faced with occasional bad behavior. The audience becomes immersed in their environment and their lives, and roots for Andrew, Harley, and Appachey to find a way not only to survive their circumstances, but to thrive despite them.
Check out the doc’s trailer. For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page and website, watch Tragos and Palermo’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile, and read their Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.