Many documentaries evoke us to take action; to quit eating a certain food or to boycott a certain brand or lifestyle. In other instances, a filmmaker simply seeks to provide a glimpse into the lives of those with which we do not share a worldview lens. Such is the case in Rich Hill. Director Tracy Droz Tragos and Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo both grew up with family in Rich Hill, Missouri, population 1,396. In just 91 minutes, the documentary immerses you to the ins and outs of a poor Missouri town and the lives of three young boys who in an all-too-familiar Midwestern poverty.
Thirteen-year old Appachey shares the story of his father walking out of his life at the age of 6; done so as he burns a cigarette in his hand in a posture that only a man who has lived much life should assume. Countless struggles arise as he deals with a laundry list of medical issues and behavioral complexes that leave him in a wave of anger just crying out to be a normal kid. His mother, who reveals a whirlwind of frustration and anxiousness, speaks on the lack of dreams and hopes in her own life in a seemingly hopeless home filled with dirty clothes and empty 64oz soda cups.
Harley, who celebrates his 16th birthday during the film, lives with his grandmother as he connects with his imprisoned mother over the phone and in occasional visits. A heated argument with his school principal provides a dualistic conflict for a child deciding between family and education as the focus and priority in his life. Scarred by an abusive family member, Harley wears his fears, anger, and aggression on his sleeve in a defeated fashion.
Andrew, 15, has moved over a dozen times in his life, several of which happen during the filming of this documentary. His demeanor is calm, loving, and grateful with ounces of joy in everything that he does. While his family seeks alternative ways to heat up bath water, which go as far as brewing hot water in the kitchen coffee pot, Andrew finds solace in mowing lawns so he can buy football gloves and a cheeseburger. Even while it feels as though Andrew may have the most hope and direction of the three boys, your heart yearns for him to experience breakthrough or abundance, as he prays for God to make time for his life someday.
The film is infused with subtle declarations of freedom and independence that we affiliate with our country, often with minimal recognition of just how unfortunate circumstances can be, even for a child. But paralleling such privileges comes the discouragement and angst for those lacking hope. Winner of the 2014 Sundance Best Documentary award, Rich Hill has painted a picture of a poverty-infused community that will touch many hearts in a graceful attempt to pursue the, perhaps, deepest and unanswerable questions that linger on the other side of the spectrum that we call the American Dream.