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Watch: Directors Tragos and Palermo Go Home to ‘Rich Hill’

Watch: Directors Tragos and Palermo Go Home to '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,” says Tragos.

Watch my interview with the filmmakers after an International Documentary Association screening, below. 

The two filmmakers were welcomed by the community, shooting without artificial lights and using wireless mics on their subjects. They wound up with 450 hours of footage, which was “a lot to sift through,” Palermo says. Their subjects loved the final film–including Andrew’s mother, who died before it played January’s Sundance (where it won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize) and True/False festivals.

“It’s real, we told their truth, that’s the best review,” says Palermo. “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.” 

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