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Allen Adams Allen Adams
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edge staff writer


‘Clapboard Jungle’ an up-and-down exploration of indie filmmaking

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Last year, I watched and reviewed over 150 films. That’s a LOT of movies. And yet, I barely scratched the surface of what was available; last year saw hundreds of new releases that I not only didn’t see, but quite likely never even heard about. Making a movie is hard, but getting it seen is in many cases even harder.

No one understands that exponential increase in difficulty like an independent filmmaker, someone who has to constantly hustle to make even incremental advances with their projects. There are so many aspects of the movie business; the creative process is just one small facet of the overall machine.

In the documentary “Clapboard Jungle,” currently available on demand, director Justin McConnell takes the viewer on a five-year journey through the life of an indie filmmaker: namely, one Justin McConnell. Through a combination of recording his own experiences trying to get projects made and interviews with a number of successful industry folks with indie connections, McConnell seeks to break down for us just how difficult it all can be for those operating outside the traditional studio system.

Meanwhile, he also juxtaposes that difficulty with the fact that there are more films being made now than ever before. Of course, that explosive growth in content doesn’t necessarily mean a corresponding growth in audiences, resulting in circumstances where someone could watch a hundred movies in a year and not see a quarter of the new work available.

The doc starts in 2014, with McConnell speaking into the camera and promising an intimate and in-depth look at the journey he intends to take with his filmmaking career, the projects that are pending and the goals going forward. Over the course of the next five years, we watch as he deals with the ebb and flow of the industry, crisscrossing the globe to attend festivals and meetings. He works the phones and makes contacts; he lands deals with investors and distributors, only to have those deals fall through at the last minute. He makes savvy moves and mistakes in equal measure, having nothing but his instincts and his collaborators to guide him through the minefield that is the movie business.

He’s a genre filmmaker – horror, to be specific – and we watch as he pushes through a number of these projects over the five-year span. He makes short films and microbudget features. He writes scripts and assembles treatments and builds pitches. All in service to a dream that continues to stubbornly remain just out of his reach.

McConnell adopts a very intimate, confessional tone as he engages directly with the camera, talking about the many obstacles he has had to overcome in the past and will likely continue to have to overcome going forward. He’s a cynical optimist – he has no illusions about the way the business works, yet allows himself to be hopeful when a piece potentially falls into place. His passion for what he’s doing is undeniable; it would have to be, considering how resolutely he marches on even when he’s dealt a setback.

Interspersed throughout are interview segments with people experienced in the indie film realm. While many of them are lesser-known names, people who helmed niche or cult films, there are also quite a few whose indie beginnings led them to the top of the mountain. Guillermo del Toro is here, talking about his own battles against the studio system even as he operates within it. The late George Romero – considered by many to be an indie godfather of sorts – is here, sharing his own hard-earned wisdom. And we get some wonderful insights from Hollywood legend Paul Schrader.

McConnell’s journey takes some unanticipated turns – some good, others not-so-much – as he tries to make his dreams come true. Are his efforts successful? You’ll have to watch and see – Hollywood might love a happy ending, but the indie realm isn’t always so cut and dried.

“Clapboard Jungle” offers some wonderful first-person insight into the world of independent filmmaking. It’s an honest (and occasionally painful to watch) look at how the sausage is made, illustrating just how many hoops require jumping through for every single step of the moviemaking process. The idea is the easy part. From there, you have to secure funding, but it’s hard to secure funding without a recognizable name attached. Of course, interesting a name in your project is hard if you don’t have any money. See the problem? And that’s just one of the myriad Catch-22s (Catches-22?) that come with trying to make a movie.

Justin McConnell is an undeniably sympathetic figure, a guy who has invested every part of himself into keeping the dream alive. He’s gotten farther than 99% of the people out there – he’s made a bunch of shorts and a couple of features. People have seen his movies. Not as many as he would like, but still – his work has appeared at festivals and on screens all over the world. And yet, he’s still not where he wants to be. It’s still a struggle, every step of the way – a struggle he documents and shares with us all.

Movie fans would do well to check out “Clapboard Jungle.” It’s a project of refreshing honesty, with McConnell standing front and center; he’s as forthcoming with his failures as he is with his triumphs. That willingness to share everything, warts and all, is what endows the film with its charms. Add in his conversations with other filmmakers – people who have experienced the business at every level – and you’ve got a worthwhile investigation of the indie experience.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 25 January 2021 10:49


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