[Fantasia 2020 Review] 'Clapboard Jungle' is an Inspiring Documentary About Surviving Indie Filmmaking
It should come as no surprise that I love horror movies (I mean, I’d be in the wrong place if I didn’t), but my love for film goes way beyond slashers and ghost stories...
...Like many of us who find solace and community in horror, I have a profound love for movies in general, a love that extends beyond just watching them. Since I was a teenager, I’ve dreamed of having a hand in making my own movies. But as many budding filmmakers know, breaking into the business isn’t exactly easy, especially for those of us who don’t have the connections or who didn’t follow a more traditional path, although even those don’t guarantee success. Mostly, it involves a lot of elbow grease, an intense dedication, and a willingness to fail over and over again.
But then there’re the indie filmmakers, those people who say, “Fuck it, I don’t need anyone’s approval” and decide they’re going to take the leap of making movies on their own. It’s hard not to respect the folks who take charge in making their dreams happen, especially since they’re most often working with microbudgets, tiny crews, and self-taught knowledge. Those are the people who take the greatest risks, putting it all on the line in the hopes of creating art that will, in some way, help them make their next project bigger and better.
It’s these people who Justin McConnell’s Clapboard Jungle, screening at Fantasia Fest 2020, is made for. Filmed over a five-year period, Clapboard Jungle tells McConnell’s story as he tries to survive the indie filmmaking business and bring his dreams to the screen. The film follows McConnell through the rollercoaster that is independent filmmaking, from travelling to film markets hoping to get funding to screening his work at film festivals across the world. All of that is bolstered by interviews with filmmakers we all know and love, who provide commentary and insight into just what it takes to survive in the industry.
“But what does all this have to do with horror movies?” you might find yourself asking. Well, the movies McConnell makes tend to be in the horror genre, so viewers get a first-hand view of what it’s like to bring together a completed horror film throughout the documentary.
But wait, there’s more. Most of the interviewees are horror filmmakers who’ve had some part in creating the works we celebrate. Filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Lloyd Kaufman, Mick Garris, and Travis Stevens all grace the screen to give insight into filmmaking. Other notable names include Barbara Crampton, Tom Savini, and Richard Stanley. There are even several filmmakers who are no longer with us, but I won’t spoil those; you’ll have to watch Clapboard Jungle for yourself.
Though it’ll most likely appeal to hopeful indie filmmakers themselves, there’s something for every lover of film in Clapboard Jungle. Those who want to make films will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look into the process, especially its depiction of what it takes to fund a film, which is a major part of McConnell’s path. McConnell doesn’t sugarcoat his story, opting to show the good and the bad, the rise and falls of the process, the struggles and the successes. He shows the reality of the work, and Clapboard Jungle should be required watching for anyone who wants to make their own films.
Those who’d rather watch films than make them should still enjoy this documentary, since it’ll help them appreciate how much dedication goes into making a movie, especially an independent one. While much of filmmaking works on illusion, it doesn’t suffer when the tricks are revealed. If anything, it gives us a better understanding of the craft of the directors, the actors, and the crew members. And that’s exactly what McConnell does in Clapboard Jungle. He pulls back the curtains and shows us how the magic works and all the hard work, and sometimes heartbreak, that goes into it.
Those fans who dream of making films will find inspiration in McConnell’s story. And those who feel like they’re lost or are thinking of giving up on their dreams will come out from the documentary with a renewed desire to get to work. I know I did.
From interviews with some of our most beloved filmmakers to a true account of the process of bringing a movie from an idea to the screen, horror fans, indie filmmakers, and every film fanatic in between will find something to love in Justin McConnell’s Clapboard Jungle.
Clapboard Jungle will be available On-Demand throughout the course of Fantasia 2020.
By Tim Beirne