Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #34: Small Town Carries Big Hopes in Tracy Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s ‘Rich Hill’

Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #34: Small Town Carries Big Hopes in Tracy Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo's 'Rich Hill'

Directors Tracy Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo guarantee you’ll think twice about passing through the town of Rich Hill, Missouri without noticing what it holds. In their feature film drama “Rich Hill,” the directing pair examines the American dream in even the most seemingly dreary community, which proves to have much more going for it than meets the eye.

What It’s About: An examination of challenges, hopes and dreams of the young residents of a rural American town.

So What It’s Really About: Our film is a modern American story about dreams, growing up and
family. Specifically, it’s about three boys, who on the outside can look
pretty darn tough. But when you get to know them up-close, you see
their insight, their humor, and their determination to survive. And
despite the isolation and seeming brutality of their circumstances,
their hope for a brighter future persists. They imagine that their hard
work will be rewarded, that the love of family will sustain, and that,
although there is no road map or role model, even they can live the
American dream.

Tell us briefly about yourself. I’m a writer, filmmaker and mother (in no particular order) and
the cousin and collaborator of the wonderful Andrew Droz Palermo. I
like to get really close up in my storytelling and filmmaking – to
reveal the intimate, small, emotional moments that are what ultimately
tie us together. No matter what I do, I’m drawn to themes of family and
belonging — and all the challenges and circumstances that surround
that.

What was your biggest challenge in completing this film? Independent filmmaking is a hornet’s nest of challenges –
financial, logistical, emotional. For me, personally, the biggest
challenge was balancing the intensity of the work with my responsibility
to my daughters and my family. But these challenges brought me closer
to the mothers in the film – we shared a bond about how hard it can be
to work outside the home, and also to care and nurture your family.

What cameras did you shoot on? We shot on a RED Scarlet.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why? Yes, we launched a Kickstarter campaign in September – and the funding was vital in allowing us to finish our film!

What do you want your Sundance audience to take away from your film? Our film is the story of America – and the American dream – as
told through the eyes of three boys and their families. At its heart,
the film is also an invitation to empathy, to share a connection with
those who might otherwise be avoided and dismissed. Out of that place of
connectedness and shared humanity, we hope audiences will question how
we justify denying resources and social capital to vulnerable families
who are, at the most fundamental level, so much like our own.
Have any films inspired you? So many films inspire – whether they
are films that are being made alongside ours, like at the Sundance Edit
& Story lab this summer – or classics that I revisit time and time
again. For this film, “Queen of Versailles” was in some measure an
inspiration. Our subjects embrace the American Dream just as in that
film – but from a very different social and economic perspective. “Grey
Gardens” and “The Graduate” are two personal all-time favorites;
“Elephant Man” and “The Deer Hunter” made me want to be a filmmaker.

What’s next for you? Andrew and I are both still working
really hard on this film – developing an outreach and engagement
campaign, and partnering with organizations that are working to bring
resources and attention to vulnerable communities and low-income
families. We want our film to be seen widely and plan to be very
involved in sharing how it is introduced to the world – and hope we’ll
find a great distributor at Sundance who shares our goals! At the same time, he and I are both developing other films near and dear
to our hearts – I’m writing a script about a woman in the middle of her
life; and Andrew is developing a narrative feature, “One & Two,”
that he hopes to shoot this summer. He and I are both are excited about
the opportunity to collaborate again.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us
about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they
faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses
leading up to the 2014 festival.
For profiles, click HERE.

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