Clapboard Jungle [Fantasia Fest]

If you missed it last fall, we covered the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. It’s a great, quick and short festival that unfortunately got postponed this year. One of the programmers for the festival is Justin McConnell. In 2018, he had a film that premiered at Toronto After Dark, as well as Fantasia called Lifechanger. He’s back again for the Fantasia, and this time with a really great documentary.

Clapboard Jungle is a documentary is a film version of a series that he is also working on that is currently in post-production. It’s about filmmaking, and while I know, that is very broad, but it really does cover a lot of what it means to be a filmmaker, both in the mainstream and mostly as an indie filmmaker.

I recently sat down and watched the entirety of the In Search of Darkness (albeit over two or three days), the Shudder documentary about horror in the ’80s. And there’s a lot of overlap of guests, and it was great to see those familiar faces that pop up in the film. Along with some other incredible guests that were available to be interviewed, including a few who have passed away since the filming occured.

To paraphrase Goodfellas, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker. I never knew exactly how to get into the industry, because I’ve heard of the great Sundance stories, or the lucky meetings that brought all of the indie darlings of the ’90s to the spotlight, but filmmaking and the industry has changed since then. We’re all aware of this, with more access and cheaper cameras and equipment, anybody can become a filmmaker. That’s why every year there are hundreds of thousands of films that I wish I got to see, and a lot that I didn’t even hear about until way later.

In Clapboard Jungle, Justin McConnell bares his soul for us as he tries again and again to get funding in order to make one of two main features, Mark of Kane, and Lifechanger. Some moments, he records himself facing rejection, and others, he records the moments after finding out. We see the super long process of attempting to get Lifechanger and others off the ground.

Over the span of five years, Justin tries to make his film and others, while also doing his day jobs, and making shorts along the way. He interviews some of the greats like Larry Cohen, and George Romero who have sadly passed away. He went around the world to try and find ways to make it.

Justin has a great closing monologue where I’ll quote a small part of it that really struck a chord with me.

I’ve been chasing a dream so long, it took me ages to notice I was already living it.

Justin McConnell, Clapboard Jungle

As he continues to say, as filmmakers, we will never reach the top of the ladder. Even the ones at the top, the Steven Spielberg’s and the Martin Scorsese’s have trouble with funding all the time. Two artists who helped craft and influence so much of cinema in the last 40+ years have trouble making things.

To be honest, its stories like this that made me realize I hate “worst of” lists or bashing on a film for the sake of views or hits, or just to be mean among friends. These 80-120+ minute movies that we digest so easily and attempt to spew hate on, are projects that dozens, if not hundreds, of people have worked on. They do it (usually) out of the love of filmmaking. And to crap on their work, is disgraceful. The same way we as fans and critics (and in the modern day, the disconnect is sometimes minimal) have to look for the bad in the good, we also have to look for the good in the bad. If I ever get to make a film, I’ll forever cherish the memories of making it over the response of the film. And sometimes, it’s hard to remember that, or focus on that when your film is being bombarded with hate, or praise.

I look forward to attending Toronto After Dark in 2021 and seeing what Justin programs, but I’m more excited to see whatever he does next, and if this doc is any indication, he has lots of up his sleeves.