'Rich Hill' Directors on Creating an Intimate Portrait of Poverty and Rural Life

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Directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s documentary Rich Hill follows three teenage boys as they struggle through a life of poverty in a small Missouri town. The directors, who also live in that community, take an intimate, loving approach in depicting their way of life in the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film.

“We knew that we wanted to do something different from films that felt exploitative,” Tragos tells Moveable Fest. “We wanted folks to have moments to meditate, contemplate, and think about the small moments and notice the small details and hand gestures. I’m really excited that we took some of the risks we that we took and we took them knowingly. We didn’t just stumble upon this film. We were very intentional and we said we’re going to do something different. We’re not going to have statistics and we’re not going to have outside experts. We’re going to have this really be an experience where we take people to this place and have these kids be the authors of their story. You walk a mile in their shoes a little bit and we knew that it would be a little bit of a risk in a way.”

Tragos focused on the duality that exists within the lives of her subjects. “There’s the smells and the beauty just of rural America and some of the patriotism and the small town [quality] of everybody knowing each other,” she says. “But it is deeply sad that there are so many people that are struggling and don’t have jobs. They’ll have their car break down and they don’t have money for gas. I think I never fully appreciated what that would feel like until making this film, how isolating that can be and how alone and unseen. That was part of the surprise in how welcomed we were in these homes, the fact that they really were appreciative that somebody was knocking on their door. Here we were. ‘Come in. Somebody wants to talk to me and hear what I’ve got going on?’ I was honored that we were welcomed in and that we got to bear witness.”

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