‘Rich Hill’ Looks Like a Strong Candidate for the Best Documentary of 2014

Rich Hill Appachey

I was intending to write something about Rich Hill before the film reached its Kickstarter goal. I’m pointing this out because normally on this site I won’t be directly promoting any crowdfunding projects strictly for the sake of encouraging readers to contribute. But this one feels special, and I was hoping that if need be I could help raise awareness for the campaign. I see a lot of documentary Kickstarters (and Indigogos, etc.) and typically zone in on the subject matter over anything else because with most projects there’s no way of foreseeing how good the film itself will be in the end. With Rich Hill, I’m not as excited about what it’s about so much as how it’s shot. Even if it’s not the best doc of 2014, it might end up being the best-looking one.

That would be thanks to co-director Andrew Droz Palermo, who I initially didn’t even realize was the same guy whose photographic work I’d celebrated over at Film School Rejects in a piece on the Borscht Film Festival last December (it was actually he, reaching out in an email, who reminded me). Many movie fans know him now if not by name then by his gorgeous cinematography for the new fiction films You’re Next, V/H/S and A Teacher. He also shot some amazing music videos. Here he’s capturing something real and making it look rather dreamlike yet natural. Rich Hill is sure to be compared to other recent cinematic nonfiction films like Tchoupitoulas, Dragonslayer and Only the Young — and not just because it also deals with kids.

Joining him at the helm (and as fellow producer) is Palermo’s first-cousin, Emmy winner Tracy Droz Tragos, who previously directed the more personal feature Be Good, Smile Pretty, about her father’s death in Vietnam. The new project also has a personal connection — Rich Hill, Missouri, is her and Palermo’s parents’ hometown — but its main focus is on three boys with distinct struggles living in this place, which Palermo described to Filmmaker magazine as “beautiful and very sad at times.” In the same interview, he did address the subjective aspect, stating that they want this to be more heartfelt and display an intimacy to the subjects that’s not normally seen in films like this: “I felt if we could be as close as humanly possible for comfort,” he said, “that would just be so much better.”

rich hill fireworks

“Films like this” are my words, and I mean issue films. I’m not too keen on Rich Hill being sold as an issue doc or so interested in the part of the project aimed at an outreach and impact campaign about the issue of children growing up in impoverished rural communities. Not that this is a bad thing, but what I see first and foremost in Rich Hill is a stunningly shot character-driven documentary. I’m really hoping the cause isn’t too stressed in the film and simply comes through in the stories. It should be like this post. I don’t want to ask you to pledge to the film’s Kickstarter. I want to tell you about the film. And if you are compelled to pledge then so be it. I want the film to show this town and these boys’ stories, and if we’re compelled to further help in the cause in any way than that’s great.

Anyway, they’ve already exceeded their $60k goal and there’s still a couple days left until it’s over. I would say now we know for sure that it’s happening, but usually with doc crowdfunding campaigns the film is definitely being made regardless — or at least it’s likely to still be finished at some point. This campaign followed grants received from the MacArthur Foundation and Sundance as well as presentation of an assembly edit back in July to the Sundance Edit & Story Lab. The money raised here is going to post-production and festival costs, and I presume we will see Rich Hill debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Watch the teaser trailer for Rich Hill below. You’re sure to get as immediately excited about this doc as I did.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.