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WATCH EXCLUSIVE CLIP: Sundance Grand Jury Winning Doc 'Rich Hill'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 21, 2014 at 6:44PM

Watch a clip from Sundance Grand Jury-winning doc 'Rich Hill,' exclusive to TOH!
"Rich Hill"
'Rich Hill'

The art of the documentarian is getting close to your subjects and catching the moments as they come. There is no finer a portrait of what grinding, incompetent poverty can do to a family, no matter how well-intentioned, than first cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo's self-funded "Rich Hill." That's the name of yet another wrong-side-of-the-tracks town in rural America, in this case depressed one-time mining town Rich Hill, Missouri, seventy miles south of Kansas City, home to some 1300 residents trying to scratch out a living.

The streets are deserted, the kids are poor, with sadass parents. We follow three boys, including cheery, bright-eyed, athletic Andrew, who gets up every day and tries to get ahead, despite his helpless, over-medicated mom and under-employed dad, who mean well but no matter how many times they start over, keep sliding back to near homelessness. It's heartbreaking when you see the light in his eyes go out. The movie relies on no narrator except the kids themselves, it's just observation. "It was important to let them be the authors," said Tragos at a post-screening Q & A at April's Ashland Film Festival.

The two filmmakers were welcomed by the community, shooting without artificial lights and using wireless mics on their subjects. They would up with 450 hours of footage, which was "a lot to sift through," Droz said. Their subjects loved the final film--including Andrew's mother, who died before it played January's Sundance (winning the Grand Jury Prize) and True/False festivals. "It's real, we told their truth, that's the best review," said Droz. "We knew we wanted to shed light on struggling families. We met Andrew in a park. We went home with him and his family was welcoming and wanted to share their story. We hope the film shows the potential of these families." 

Since Sundance a wellspring of support has come for the kids from various benefactors. Check out the clip below and the film when it opens in a theater near you this August, listed here

This article is related to: Sundance, Sundance Film Festival, Video, Festivals

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.