Although co-directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos tackle difficult topics in Rich Hill—poverty, sexual abuse—it's obvious why they won three awards at Sundance: they are able to pull the viewer in and provide a feeling of comfort in the midst of terrible tragedy.
Rich Hill is a documentary that follows the lives of three young boys in impoverished Rich Hill, Missouri. There's Andrew, the thirteen-year-old football player with big dreams. Fifteen-year-old Harley is the oldest of the trio, but his social anxiety and traumatic past make him difficult to keep up with. Lastly, there is the youngest, Appachey, who fights with not only his mother but kids at school, and angrily objects to everything in his life.
"I'm a demented little kid," Harley admits to his grandma. She merely grunts in response, in a way agreeing with Harley through her silence. Harley lives with his grandmother, because his mother is in jail for attempted murder. As the film unfolds, you learn more about the circumstances leading to her arrest and watch a short interview. Although Harley was sexually abused by his stepfather and struggles to attend classes at school, he is somehow able to smile. He constantly tries to make the cameraman laugh and even trick-or-treats just like every other child in Rich Hill.
Appachey is only twelve years old, but is taken to court under the charge of assault. Most of his scenes depict him as easily angered and rude to his mother. She works hard to keep a roof over their family's head, but Appachey cannot deal with the fact that his father left and never said goodbye. He dreams of moving to China, because he loves their art—full of dragons and adventure.
Andrew and his twin sister live with both of their parents. They have moved more times than Andrew can count, since his father cannot hold a job and constantly wants to pursue something new. Andrew's father prepares a bath by heating water in a skillet on an iron.
efore Andrew heads to a football game, he puts on his hole-ridden green jersey in a dirty house and hugs his mother who isn't mentally all there. Yet, when he's on the field, it's impossible to tell him apart from the other jersey-clad boys. For a few moments there is no difference between the boy who only has fifteen cents to spend at the store and the other boys running on the field. Does anyone even know that he and his family are struggling to make it?
Everyone in this film is a survivors. Despite the conditions that Harley, Appachey, and Andrew live under in the ironically named Rich Hill, there is something strange lingering throughout the film: hope. These people have been through some of the most awful situations and somehow, joy radiates in their lives.
"I praise God. I worship him," says Andrew, "I pray to him every night. Nothing's came, but that's not gonna stop me. This is what comes to my mind: God has to be busy with everyone else." Although he is so young and has only known poverty and struggle, Andrew trusts that God knows what's best and will give him what is necessary to make it by. Andrew may not have a roof over his head, but he has food in his stomach, clothes on his back, and a family who loves him.