Friday, August 1, 2014

Movie with Abe: Rich Hill

Rich Hill
Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Dogz Tragos
Released August 1, 2014

I’ve written before about how there are a few different types of documentaries. There are those that seek to expose or to advocate for change, those that argue vehemently against something, and those that simply show and tell a story. “Rich Hill,” which took home the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, falls into the third of those categories, presenting three boys from the title town in Missouri, all of whom struggle to overcome the obstacles in their lives to persevere despite less than ideal circumstances.

“Rich Hill” is a very literal film that, more than anything, lets its characters speak for themselves. It does present the occasional intertitle to explain who someone is or where they are, but most often, it simply shows the name of one of the characters. Andrew, Harley, and Appachey are the protagonists, each challenged by the unstable nature of their parents’ employment – or imprisonment – and other social issues. They are by definition not set up for success, and hearing them talk about their lives and how they understand their situations to be reveals an unexpected maturity and a somewhat unique outlook on life and its rewards.

Ultimately, it’s these three boys who make this film come alive. It is abundantly clear that these three are real people, eager to tell their stories because they think that their lives are worthwhile. They embrace the notion of the camera in front of them because they believe that others would want to know about their lives, but not in a pompous or self-involved way. Most of the time, they don’t look at the camera or even acknowledge its presence, but instead just go about existing, seemingly just distantly aware of the fact that they are being recorded.

Charting their lives over the course of a year allows filmmakers Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos the opportunity to really get to know them and convey their attitudes and spirit to their viewers. Their stories are edited together to seem like coherent and cohesive parts of a whole, an overarching statement on the nature of poverty and those who might be dismissed outright as doomed failures. This mostly appealing if not entirely enthralling documentary makes an argument for the lower class, advocating for their right to tell their stories just as much as anyone else.


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