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.