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Tuesday, August 5, 2014


2014, 91 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Winner of the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo's Rich Hill is a moving portrait of three teens in the ironically-named Rich Hill, MO, an economically depressed town.  Tragos and Palermo follow the aforementioned teens around Rich Hill as they go about their daily lives.  The three that Tragos and Palermo document are phenomenal doc subjects, as they're incredibly open about themselves and their lives, sometimes startlingly so.

Because the teens' families are poor and some of their homes are broken, they are troubled, some more so than others.  It's painful to hear them recount stories of their childhoods.  Credit must be given to Tragos and Palermo for interviewing the teens' parents/guardians as well.  The sequences where the parents/guardians talk helps to create a much more complex portrait of their families and allow us to sympathize with them as well.

I've heard some call this movie "poverty porn," but I would argue against using that term, since the poverty portrayed here is never glamorized.  Yes, the film is beautifully shot and shows that there is some dignity in poverty, but this doesn't mean that poverty is glamorized.  There is no sugar-coating, which is one of the film's greatest strengths.  Tragos and Palermo stare the sadness of the these teens' situations in the face.  However, if they had reveled in the despair and rubbed our faces in it, Rich Hill would have been unwatchable.

While Rich Hill is an overall compelling film, I wish that there had been more exploration of the town of Rich Hill and how it became as depressed as it is.  The film is called Rich Hill, yet we really know very little about the town.  This information could have been included in a few short slides at the beginning of the film.

Overall, Rich Hill is a sad, eye-opening portrayal of poverty in modern-day America.  This is not the America that many of us know, yet it is the only America that millions live in every day.  Through Tragos and Palermo's camera, we are given a window into this other world.  I was moved by this film and think that many others will be as well.


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