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Fantasia 2020 Review: Clapboard Jungle

The Good Fight

There’s a reason that I’m a film critic. I’ve spent my life eating, sleeping, and breathing movies. I enjoy all types of cinema, ranging from The Avengers to L’Avventura. And I can say without a doubt that there has never been a better time to be a cinephile. Audiences have more access (and more options) than ever before. So it’s strange to also admit it’s more challenging than ever to make a living as a filmmaker.

The last two decades have democratized filmmaking. People don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to attend film school – everything they need to know is available online. Everyone has access to cameras; phones shoot high definition video, and high-end digital cameras are more affordable than ever before. And streaming services allow filmmakers to distribute their work without the backing of a studio.

Anyone willing the put in the work has the tools to make a film and get it in front of viewers. But this democratization is a blessing and a curse. With so many people producing content, it’s difficult for movies to stand out from their competition.

The new documentary, Clapboard Jungle, from director Justin McConnell, examines cinema’s cold new reality. The doc follows McConnell’s five-year journey as he struggles to get his gritty horror flick Lifechanger off the ground. We see McConnell put his all into completing a script, securing funding, and seeking distribution for a project that may never come to fruition.

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Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. But in show business, the prepared aren’t always lucky. You can put years of work into a project and walk away with nothing to show for it. You can’t help but feel for McConnell as he hustles his ass off and gets door after door slammed in his face. He seems destined to keep taking one step forward and two steps back.

Clapboard Jungle does an excellent job making you understand the strength and conviction required to will a film into existence. The entertainment industry puts creative people through a soul-crushing grind. It’s a small miracle that anything good gets made. Beads of sweat constantly roll down McConnell’s face as he reveals his frustration to the camera. By the time the credits roll, you’ll understand why even the trashiest film you’ve ever seen deserves some respect.

If you’re not filmmaking royalty like Spielberg or Tarantino, producing a film requires eating plenty of shit. McConnell interviews dozens of industry experts who work in or around the film business. These interviewees share their candid insights on what it takes to get films made, and these are some of the doc’s best bits. Clapboard Jungle features Hollywood legends like Guillermo del Toro and Tom Savini, as well as the film critics and festival programmers who help movies find an audience. The sprawling cast of talking heads makes the doc feel like a filmmaking crash-course.

People think of the film business as glamorous work, and this doc demystifies the experience. Clapboard Jungle is like that one friend who keeps it real with you no matter what, stating all the brutal facts that you don’t want to hear. Making movies is hard, even on a good day. If you’re lucky, you might scrape by without going into debt. And oh yeah, all those red carpets, festival premieres, and glitzy afterparties are reserved for successful working filmmakers.

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For too many indie filmmakers, making movies is like going to war; imagine Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha beach scene. Most directors get shot down before they even get close to shore. Clapboard Jungle shows an up-and-coming director lose battle after battle but somehow keep soldiering on. And by the end of the doc, McConnell makes you understand why his dream is worth fighting for.

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