Clapboard Jungle: Review

Clapboard Jungle: Review

An intimate and personal journey of independent filmmaker Justin McConnell’s quest to survive in the turbulent and over-saturated current film business. It is a no frills documentary, shot over a five year period, filmed very much in the spirit of DIY filmmaking.

The mixture of handheld footage, narration (much of it to camera) and voiceover, combined with more produced footage reflects this, without placing greater importance on either. The project as a whole is very organic and plays out on two levels, the journey itself and its trajectory in a larger context. 

As with most stories of struggle against adversity, one inevitably finds oneself rooting for the underdog, and this is no exception. Justin is sincere and honest in his documentation, through the highs and lows, ‘peaks and troughs’, he explains. His passion is endearing and it regularly shines through. Any signs of anger or bitterness cannot fully mask a fundamental spirit of optimism and determination. 

McConnell is hands on with the promotional side too. He is not one to shy away from hitting the road to try and secure funding, backing and support, traveling internationally to attend film festivals and events such as Cannes Marché du Film, Frontières, and Fantasia. These venues and markets, rather than being held at in-house studios or companies, offer a communal pool for independents to meet, pitch and bond on a shared platform.

They are essential hubs for filmmakers like McConnell, who lack professional representation, in which to do business. The travelogues he makes along the way pull back the curtain on the glitzy side of the industry, giving us a glimpse into the mechanical and promotional side of the business. 

There is an impressive selection of interviews from legendary cinema veterans from various fields of the industry. Directors, writers, make-up artists and actors (including Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Schrader, Tom Savini and Michael Biehn) each offer valued insight and stories which highlight their own struggles, and insecurities and confusion as they themselves have risen through the ranks. These are straight and honest talking heads, and provide McConnell with a congenial respect as well as kudos. 

Many of his own collaborators, such as co-writer Serena Whitney, as well as friends and family, each give their own voice to the story so we can learn more about him objectively from those in his immediate circle. In addition many of his telephone conversations are also filmed and we hear the dialogues between potential backers and financiers.

This transparency brings us closer to his story, drawing us in and making us feel more connected to it, even though it does at times seem aimed more directly at aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles, who will no doubt get the most out of it. But McConnell is pleasant company, a joy to spend time with and clearly passionate about his mission which ends, pleasingly, on a high. 

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Thomas is a musician, writer and film enthusiast with a broad taste in films, from Big Night to The Big Combo. When he isn’t immersed in these activities his passions extend to the kitchen and food.


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