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Rich Hill: Sundance Review

Rich Hill Sundance Film Still - H 2014

The Bottom Line

A hard-eyed but empathetic glimpse into the hardscrabble lives of struggling Missouri folk.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Directors-screenwriters

Tracy Droz Tragos, Andrew Droz Palermo

Co-directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo follow three teenage boys living in the dirt-water area of Missouri.

PARK CITY – This is a reality show that doesn’t feature horny bimbos, but rather the “real” reality of survival in the heartland. Filmmakers Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo have conveyed the hardship and isolation of three teenage boys in a dirt-water area of Missouri.

Lensing darkly but compassionately, they bring their cameras to a tiny burg called Rich Hill, a cruel misnomer for its desolate decay. Truncated by a freight-train track, there’s nothing going except the wayward meanderings of disconnected folk.  

In cinema verite style, the filmmakers follow three boys, who all endure disjointed and dysfunctional families. Andrew’s father is a ne’er-do-well odd-jobber who is usually out of work and behind on the rent; Harley lives with his grandma because his mom is in prison for attempted murder; while Appachey’s unsupervised home life is characterized by his lighting cigarettes with the toaster and jabbing a knife into the thin moldy walls. While we admire their idiosyncratic resilience, the three teens have no guidance or road map to better their lives.

This is truly not the Norman Rockwell version of heartland America. It’s a grim reality of shabby trailer homes, junk-heaped porches and disabled vehicles. In essence, the American Dream seems only a cruel myth to these boys, and the blasting of Fourth of July fireworks is the high point of the year.

Often heartbreaking, Rich Hill presents real life as few filmgoers know it. In certain respects it’s almost as if cultural anthropologists descended on a foreign land, but, unfortunately, it’s a withered part of this nation that is rarely visited.

The technical accomplishments are fitting and well-realized: cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo’s riveting compositions convey the desolation, while Nathan Halpern’s haunting score dredges up the dark world of Rich Hill.

Production company: RichHillFilm

Producers/directors: Tracy Droz Tragos, Andrew Droz Palermo

Director of photography: Andrew Droz Palermo

Music: Nathan Halpern

Editor: Jim Hession

No rating, 92 minutes