Fantasia International Film Festival: Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business (2020) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

I’m going to approach this review like Justin McConnell, the director of the documentary Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business (2020) that I’ll be reviewing here, by inserting my experience into the structure. This is not mocking – but I think it is relevant, as his experience is what drives his research into the subject as my enjoyment of this film is directly related to my role in the film world. While I have inserted myself into the world of film criticism, I’m a film lover and film teacher first and foremost. This documentary lends itself perfectly for my world, as it shows the ups-and-downs, and – as McConnell compares it many times to – the roller coaster of emotions and struggles that the industry controls.

In his documentary, McConnell covers several years of his life and career as he tries to get not one, but several, movies made. In between his struggles and triumphs, McConnell has gathered some amazing interviews with directors, producers, actors, and other industry people discussing the industry as a whole, and the many obstacles aspiring filmmakers may find themselves up against. 

The one downside of the documentary – which is likely not McConnell’s fault, but more his access – is that some of the things we hear about him getting to do, we are unable to see. He goes to these big sales conventions and takes several meetings…as we see in one self-interview, he holds up a stack of business cards he collected at this event – yet we don’t get to see any of these meetings. It is likely that the people holding the meeting didn’t want anything recorded, as it could be used against them later or make them look bad, -but it would have been an awesome thing to include, if possible.  

It’s impossible not to note that this documentary is a little bit self-indulgent. However, it is a compelling thing to see, as there are probably many people who want to dive into a similar journey that McConnell is going on, and are able to take away parallels or warnings. In that way, this doc becomes a potential warning to those looking to pursue the dream that it’s not easy, it takes a lot of sacrifices, and the dream may not be exactly what you thought it was…but, if you want to make art and share stories, then it can be done. That element – that the dream of becoming this rich iconic filmmaker isn’t likely, but being a filmmaker is definitely attainable – is emphasized here. 

I enjoyed watching this documentary very much, and had very little complaints about it as a whole. Some of the B-roll of websites scrolling felt a bit forced, and the editing as a whole felt a little perfunctory – but those technical complaints didn’t impact my takeaways. Overall, Clapboard Jungle earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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