Published Jun 04, 2020Shot over a turbulent five years of trying to get a project of the ground and into a theatre, Justin McConnell's Clapboard Jungle is an eye-opening odyssey into the masochistic drive that structures the Independent film business. While intimately documenting the setbacks and hurdles he experienced in attempting to secure funding for the 2018 fantasy-horror film Lifechanger (among other projects which never saw the light of day), he casts his journey against the backdrop of myriad people who have "made it" in the independent film business, all airing their collective grievances and frustrations with the hoops they themselves had to jump through. The resulting film paints a bleak portrait for the future of independent genre cinema by uncomfortably confirming that the struggle, self-doubt, and challenges of getting a film from concept to VOD service are universal.
McConnell himself proves a vulnerable and engaging presence that gives Clapboard Jungle its heart. While not overly personable, especially when a potential distributor or contact drops out on him (as so often happens in this film), he gives off the air of an exasperated professional who can't let go of his dream. While baffled by the business side of the industry he works in, his revealing diary entries, which structure the film, demonstrate his tenacity to learn and conquer a system that has crushed many young hopefuls like him in the past.
Along that way is a veritable who's who of the independent genre film world, including actors, directors, producers, distributors and product managers, all primed to finally air the resentments they've built up over how the industry has treated them. Their insight and step-by-step breakdown over how a film in this circle of the industry actually gets made turns Clapboard Jungle into a must-watch — a vital resource overflowing with pivotal information for aspiring directors out there who could really benefit from it. Crossed with McConnel walking the audience through each of these steps in detail as he shops his film around, this film could be used as an instruction manual on how to fund and release independent movies, akin to Lloyd Kaufman's Make Your Own Damn Movie (who is, unsurprisingly, in the film too).
Its insight into why and how the industry is the way it is, however, could be stronger. As a movie that can be best described as a collective sigh aimed at the state of independent film, Clapboard Jungle and its amassed panel of industry insiders take a scattershot approach to pointing the finger at why making movies is such a war of attrition nowadays. Too much content, critics, streaming subscription services — all this and more come up in the interviewees' diagnoses as to how we got where we are.
That aside, as a personal filmmaker's journey of survival in the ebbs and flows of an unpredictable and unwelcoming industry, Clapboard Jungle is a sharp and concerning look at the state of independent film. While its bountiful tips on how to navigate the business are invaluable, McConnel's personally documented story of failure and triumph is equally engrossing.
The year's Canadian Film Fest airs on Super Channel Fuse. See the schedule here. (Indiecan Entertainment)