Fantasia Festival Review: Clapboard Jungle

Year: 2020
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Director: Justin McConnell
Stars: Chris Alexander, Dave Alexander, Chad Archibald 

By Daniel Richeson

Stories of filmmakers are always told by looking back at the times when they wanted to quit. Typically creators that are seeking out information or advice given by successful filmmakers are left looking at the words of Martin Scorsese who is one of the most successful filmmakers of all-time. His words are important and full of wisdom and knowledge, but he’s still Martin Scorsese, so it’s been a long time since the day in and day out struggle of filmmaking has affected him on a professional level. This isn’t to say he needs to be silent about his struggles as the whole story of “The Irishman” getting made and produced is a tale of rejection. However, these stories of rejection and failure are maximized when the subject is an unknown filmmaker. Someone like Justin McConnell. The Director and subject matter of “Clapboard Jungle”, a documentary about the agonizing experience it is to create a movie. This documentary follows McConnell over a few years from trying to get existing projects greenlit to creating new projects to generate interest in bigger features he’s at the helm of. 

There are obvious takeaways about the state of movies or the ‘streaming wars’ or how so much content fills our every single day now. Yet, the feeling of a tight-knit group of filmmakers, directors, producers, writers, actors, and anyone else involved is prevalent throughout the interviews with people most viewers aren’t going to recognize. There are a few high profile names like Guillermo Del Toro or Tom Savini but the majority of these names are a certain sect of horror filmmakers that may be familiar to that community, but the importance is that these creators are struggling the same way that McConnell is. These interviews are meant to inspire and let viewers who may be interested in film know that yes it’s going to be hard and sometimes it will be hopeless, but they keep going in hopes that maybe someday it turns. 

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The specifics of the film are centered around Justin McConnell’s professional life and show the daily grind he has endured in getting his films off the ground and onto a screen. He begins talking about making movies since his childhood and the viewer gets to go along with him as he starts to see some positive moments as he tries to do the business side of moviemaking. It’s easy to watch a movie and just see the acting, the directing, the writing and make a criticism of these aspects, but what most casual moviegoers likely don’t think about or even know is the hours and hours going in to just getting to film a movie, much less get it shown in national theaters. The work that goes into getting funding for a project and convincing people with money to buy into the concept is harder than the actual process of making movies. Not to say that any part is easy, but as McConnell tries to navigate the business side, he confronts his own shortcomings. 

“These interviews are meant to inspire and let viewers who may be interested in film know that yes it’s going to be hard and sometimes it will be hopeless, but they keep going in hopes that maybe someday it turns.”

One glaring aspect of this documentary is the prominence of white men in the business. This doesn’t come across as a detriment to the message, but even McConnell felt the need to insert a section acknowledging that the business side of filmmaking is hard, but it’s even more difficult for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community to navigate these rooms. Obviously, McConnell is a white man and can’t speak about these difficulties, but to insert such a small portion of these issues is telling of an industry with severe problems. It’s meaningful that one of his main partners is a woman and the film does give cadence to the struggles of women in horror filmmaking as well with the misogynistic gate-keeping of being a “true horror fan.” Yet, the theme of a communal struggle and imploring that hope is always on the horizon, it would seem more prudent to include this section earlier and perhaps with some more time given to these interviews with women. 

What strikes the hardest in this film is the commitment and sacrifice needed to get these projects made into something. Many filmmakers don’t see profits in their films and may likely never see a large enough profit to feel comfortable. Love is required for someone to pursue filmmaking, and frankly even to watch these kinds of documentaries, one needs to be interested in the making of films.

“Clapboard Jungle” is a great piece of content for potential filmmakers or careers in the field to get a sense of the business side of movie magic and really investigate how strong that love is.”

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Constant conference calls, endless meetings, and broken promises are all in a day’s work when trying to secure financing for a project and all of this is on display for McConnell including some truthful words from actors who were interested in failed films of his. Just because a project failed to entice producers or garner any interest in the community doesn’t necessarily mean that’s just how the business goes, personal mistakes and holding oneself accountable is a growth that needs to occur before someone can become a serious filmmaker. Not much light is given to this personal growth from McConnell but as the film goes on and the more he speaks, it’s obvious that finding some small successes led him to collaborate more openly and understanding where he needed to grow.

Overall, “Clapboard Jungle” is a great piece of content for potential filmmakers or careers in the field to get a sense of the business side of movie magic and really investigate how strong that love is. A common phrase is that every movie is a miracle. The products seen on screen are an amalgamation of hard work, collaboration, many minds, and the ability to drag a project from the grave back to life. Masterpieces had to get funded just as much as some local filmmakers attempt at a B-horror movie.

3.5 stars

“Clapboard Junction ” will be showing at Fantasia Film Festival from 20th August to 2nd September.

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