Fantasia International Film Festival has always been a haven for indie genre filmmakers. It makes sense that their 2020 lineup would include a documentary about the journey of an indie filmmaker. Clapboard Jungle: Survivng the Independent Film Business is the result of five years’ work from filmmaker Justin McConnell (Broken Mile, Lifechanger).
McConnell’s documentary takes audiences on his five-year journey as he attempts to get multiple film projects made and distributed. His projects include multiple feature-length films and a few short films made between projects. We get to watch as McConnell utilizes various methods to attempt to get his films produced, into the film festival circuit, and distributed. He supplements his own journey with interviews with individuals involved in different aspects of filmmaking such as producers, writers, directors, casting directors, and more. There are even big name filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), alongside indie darlings including Jenn Wexler (The Ranger) and Gigi Saul Guerrero (Culture Shock).
Clapboard Jungle is effective in authentically conveying what happens when trying to make an indie genre film. Often times the filmmaking process can seem glamorous and straight-forward. McConnell shows that is not the case. He explains how the filmmaking process from concept to distribution is long, complex, and many films never see the light of day. Clapboard Jungle also makes it clear that there is no one correct way to make a film. While the audience primarily sees the methods McConnell employs to make his films, we also see multiple interviews with different filmmakers at varying levels of their careers and tips for making a film. It quickly becomes clear that each one of them has different advice.
While much of the documentary focuses on McConnell’s journey, he also acknowledges the journeys of others. Specifically, McConnell points out that he is a white male in a predominantly white male industry. He points out that, despite how difficult his film journey has been over this five-year period, women and people of color have a much more difficult time getting their films made. This may be a small part of the overall narrative, but it really forces one to think just how much women and POC have to do to make a film after watching the trials and tribulations McConnell experiences.
Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business is essential viewing not just for filmmakers, but for anyone involved in the film industry. The documentary is sometimes brutally honest, but also provides helpful tips for budding filmmakers who are trying to make a film. Based on this and McConnell’s other recent film, Lifechanger (which I was able to review last year), he is clearly very passionate about what he does and skilled at it. Normally I give a number rating for films, but I don’t like to do that for documentaries as they are often very personal to those who made the film. Instead I will say this is a must-watch for anyone interested in the indie filmmaking process.