[Fantasia Digital 2020 Review] CLAPBOARD JUNGLE
Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival
Filmmaker Justin McConnell quips at the outset of CLAPBOARD JUNGLE that the three “no-nos” of filmmaking are:

  1. To make a film about yourself
  2. To make a film about filmmaking
  3. To open your film with a quote

Perhaps it’s a testament to McConnell’s talent that he was able to do all three and deliver one of the better documentary watches I’ve seen this year.

CLAPBOARD JUNGLE gets into the nuts and bolts of “the biz” in a way that puts hundreds of university lectures and industry conventions to shame. In his documentary, filmmaker Justin McConnell chronicles nearly two decades of floundering (and finding his footing) in the world of films and filmmaking. It’s a story defined by successes and failures, and failures, and disappointment, and other failures, and the glimmer of hope for the next successful project.

McConnell further contextualizes this strange community of filmmakers through interviews with some of the greatest icons in the business. Industry icons like Guillermo Del Toro and George A. Romero commiserate alongside scrappy mavericks like Larry Cohen. The documentary is jam-packed with exciting appearances and makes perfect sense as an official selection of Fantasia Fest 2020, as well as the Canadian Film Festival, Night Visions, and Frightfest.

When we think about films and filmmakers, we can’t help but think of the glitz of Hollywood and the notion of talented dreamers. So often we imagine the world of film as a dreamland not unlike the stories that are portrayed, very rarely do we consider the cold, brass tax of it all. One of the most interesting elements of CLAPBOARD JUNGLE is how boring it is. Let me explain: This is not the story of a starry-eyed hopeful that makes the big time with a click of his heels. The journey of a filmmaker is messy and not very glamorous, with a leading man that is much more brow-beaten than lifted by dreams.

Still from CLAPBOARD JUNGLE l Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

It’s equally inspirational and educational to be reminded of filmmaking as a business, driven by numbers and networking.  Appropriately, much of the film centers on Fantasia Fest and its Frontières market where viewers can see firsthand what a tradeshow of hopes and dreams really looks like.

Beyond the individual journey of McConnell and his films, CLAPBOARD JUNGLE offers an equally intimate look with what the entire filmmaking landscape looks like today. Experts from all levels of the industry weigh in on topics like streaming services, film festivals, the saturation of content, and the delicate balance between making your art and making a hit. It would be cynical if it wasn’t so lovingly put together.

However, this critic would argue that CLAPBOARD JUNGLE is less a film about the state of the filmmaking industry and less about the individual journey from dream to debut. CLAPBOARD JUNGLE is about film as a community. Within the “warts and all” approach to the business of cinema, is a tight community of people that are all comrades in the same war. Film festival devotees and the power players at film markets and in the press, we’re all obsessed with a dream… and the way it repeatedly kicks the shit out of us to determine who is cut out for that world

Justin McConnell is compelling in his honesty and so obviously in love with his subject. It’s a beautiful work about all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. For film lovers, industry insiders, and hopeful dreamers alike CLAPBOARD JUNGLE is a must-see.

CLAPBOARD JUNGLE will be enjoying its Quebec Premiere in the Documentaries from the Edge category at the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Caitlin Kennedy
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