Tracy Tragos
Tracy Tragos

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.