Hot Docs 2014: Rich Hill (2014)
Rich Hill, which recently won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is an understated work. Filmmaking cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s documentary is quiet instead of overblown and modest instead of self-important – quite a feat considering how tumultuous the lives of its subjects are. Focusing on three impoverished teenagers – 13 year-old Appachey, 14 year-old Andrew and 15 year-old Harley – and their day-to-day lives in the titular town, Tragos and Palermo paint an honest (and sometimes grim) portrait of financial hardship, parenthood and adolescent difficulties.
“We’re not trash, we’re good people,” says Andrew, in one of Rich Hill’s earliest scenes. Appachey suffers from a variety of psychiatric disorders, Harley is moving on from a horrifying childhood event while his mother is in prison and Andrew longs for his family to settle in one place after years of constant moving. Their families’ lack of money and, as a result, opportunities, is their common ground. The three teenagers are shockingly open to Tragos and Palermo about their perspectives and hopes, and are often as articulate and self-aware as the adults.
It’s also an impeccably shot film, both in the more natural, raw scenes and the extended sequences imbued with Terence Malick-like poetic imagery and fascination with movement. It’s clear Tragos and Palermo wanted to enhance Rich Hill with art film sensibilities, something the documentary judges at Sundance obviously responded to. But what truly elevates Rich Hill, and almost all documentaries, is its subjects and the filmmakers’ genuine sense of empathy. I know all I need to know about these kids, and that’s more than enough.
Screening Times for Rich Hill
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 Mon, Apr 28 7:00 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre Wed, Apr 30 4:00 PM
Hart House Theatre Sun, May 4 12:30 PM