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CLAPBOARD JUNGLE ****

Directed by Justin McConnell.

Starring Justin McConnell.

Documentary, USA, 98 minutes.


Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 12th April and streaming on ARROW on 19th April

 

FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?

 

FrightFest audiences may already be familiar with writer/director Justin McConnell from his 2018 feature LIFECHANGER which played at that year’s festival and was soon released afterwards on DVD through the FrightFest Presents label. This bracingly honest and revealing documentary guides us through the long and sometimes painful journey through the creative process that took him there. Beginning in 2014 McConnell cheekily informs the viewer of the three things you should avoid when making a film; making a film about yourself and film making and then opening it with a quote, three rules that he immediately breaks. It is a testament to his skills then that he manages to get away with all three and to his tenacious creative nature which he skilfully manages with a mix of fierce determination which can still often be plagued by self-doubt.

 

Examining the many pitfalls that plague low budget film making he widens the scope by bringing in a vast number of interviewees who offer advice on what to do and what not to do in the many areas that must be manoeuvred in bringing your vision to the screen. Industry giants and legends such as Guillermo Del Toro and George Romero are on hand to offer sage advice alongside several other figures including sales and casting agents and a number of up-and-coming producers and directors who are no doubt already familiar to FrightFest audiences. Alongside these entertainingly informative discussions we witness McConnell try and get a few projects to the screen. The road to LIFECHANGER is a long one, involving numerous setbacks shown on screen in painstakingly honest detail.

 

The films pace races by and is absolutely stacked with information, some that may come across as surprising to some audiences with its honesty in displaying the often-cynical nature that creatives are faced with in bringing their stories to the screen. It dissects and skewers the myth of the director/rock star figure and dispels the notion that this is a business to make quick cash out of. The mind-boggling Catch 22’s of trying to raise the money to make your film in the first place are thrown at the viewer in dizzying detail. “That’s where money starts to get expensive” remarks one insider, a statement that is both rock solid common sense and confusing conundrum at the same time.

 

As fascinating as it is to watch McConnell’s journey, he is self-aware enough to step back and look at the struggles that minority figures face in an already tough business with the bonus of sexism and ignorance that they are then faced with. If all of this makes the film sound like a dispiriting slog it is anything but. It manages to be both entertaining and massively informative with several priceless tips, using karaoke in the name of making friends and influencing people at film festivals for instance.

 

Although it may come across to casual viewers as a tad alienating CLAPBOARD JUNGLE is a must watch for burgeoning creatives and a real kick start for those who may be losing faith in their own skills and dreams. In an age of streaming entertainment when the marketplace for independent genre film is threatened with over-saturation this could prove to be an indispensable guide to bringing the next big names visions to the screen whoever they may be.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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