A note to Jim, our editor…

Just found this in the pile of papers from last year - a note to Jim, our editor - about some of my thoughts on the deeper themes in RICH HILL:

You’ll see from our proposals that we have described this project in different ways - but slowly moving away from the circumstances of the town to the experience and emotions of the people.  Still we want this to be more than portraiture.


Last night I was thinking about the parallels that I see between the trauma, instability and violence within our families’ homes to a war zone.  I was reminded of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”  For our subjects, there are “things they carry,” that give them hope, even if it’s false.  Andrew clings to his intact family, his belief in his father’s dreams, and his friendships.  Harley collects knives and leans on Grandma.  Appachey has the least - but still he clings to the notion of family and his mother’s inconsistent love.


What makes a family?  Why do we cling to the need to belong - even the belonging is what holds us back?   


Yes - love sustains.  But how can it heal from the repeated trauma and misfortune - the generational beating down of poverty and lack of opportunity?  It can give hope - but maybe hope isn’t enough.  This is where a community - a larger community needs to step in - so that these kids and their anguish - mental and emotional more than anything else - isn’t invisible.


It is less about our subjects escaping this place and leaving their families than it is about finding their place and discovering self-worth in connection.


Some have said that this film is as much about depression as it is about poverty - but I would say many of these kids aren’t depressed, they are trapped and scared and would benefit hugely from mental health resources and a community that is embracing, rather than shunning.  


For even in Rich Hill, these kids are an underclass that aren’t seen fully.  Why are we focusing on the bad kids? - people want to know.  Our answer: these kids may be poor and at-risk, but they certainly aren’t bad.


Ultimately, we do want to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.  The notion that everyone has a chance to shape their destinies, and to find connection, meaning and joy in their life.  That families matter, even if they are broken; communities can unite and give strength even if they are dying and falling apart.