Every indie film that gets released is a miracle. It’s with that premise that Justin McConnel creates Clapboard Jungle, an instructive documentary for anyone trying to break into such an elusive industry. The film follows its director as he develops a full slate of projects. With as many as twelve projects in flux, a series of talking heads give practical advice to the filmmaker. From Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman to Guillermo del Toro, a showpiece of networking establishes that it truly is about who you know and a heaping dash of luck.
Crucially for the filmmaker, and anyone interested in this fascinating business of production, Clapboard Jungle details film festival markets. An inside look into the lovely Canadian friendly Fantasia market finds genre creators cultivating their own unique space. It’s at these markets, where shorts become features. Where connections make careers. Expounding off the insider access festivals provide, we get something truly special: an exploration of The Marché du Film, the Cannes film market. Found there are hundreds of exhibitors trying to sell their films. The great majority of a year’s releases stem from this crucial show floor where studios line their release calendars and create the crux of their output.
There is good value in studying Justin McConnel’s path of production. Throughout the picture, he’s working his hardest to sell a film aptly called Lifechanger, which eventually saw release in 2018. It’s not as simple as selling one movie. The director is always selling himself and an entire notebook of movies to potential investors. He is creating a short film with hopes of expanding that into a full-length picture. He makes it a Christmas-themed horror picture and sends it out as Christmas cards. With ingenuity and a burning passion to do the work, we see the sacrifices and complexity of a system that is releasing more films than ever, deeply oversaturated, and has become almost impossible to become financially enriched by.
Clapboard Jungle is the struggle of the modern director. It casts a light upon the difficulties of doing the work. It is not enough to only be a director. You must also learn every aspect of filmmaking and practice it, to get to the big goal. While the film gives one frame of reference and is instructive to the wannabe filmmaker, it may find less usefulness to the average audience. It is a deeply personal story but with the subtext that this is the average journey. For anyone deeply invested in the form, and especially festival markets, it’s a valuable small lens into the process.