Fantasia Festival 2020: Clapboard Jungle (2020)

Clapboard Jungle (2020)

Director: Justin McConnell

Following five years in the life and career of an independent filmmaker, supported by dozens of interviews, posing one question: how does an indie filmmaker survive in the current film business? – IMDB

Independent films might not exactly be on the radar for a lot of normal filmgoers but with the success of more and more of them, there are more people that are interested in looking up more of these low-budget independent films being produced. However, more than what gets to the front of the general public and released and distributed is all the hard work of getting one made. Justin McConnell takes us on his personal and arduous journey of getting a film made in Clapboard Jungle while calling this as a subtitle, Surviving the Independent Film Business.

For those interested in making their own independent film business, this might be a good starting point as McConnell not only shows his experience and the different routes he goes on to look for funding from investors but also interviews a lot of different key people involved in the independent film business from film festival administrators to fellow independent film directors and producers and more including some bigger names like George A. Romero and Guillermo Del Toro. Due to the span of this documentary, a few of these interviewees have already left this world however they did leave some great insight on this topic. The strength in this documentary does mainly go towards these various interviews spanning on the different hurdles that the independent film business brings along from its audience feedback in this current social media landscape and online accessibility addressing the keyboard warriors and their lack of respect. At the same time, also looking at the importance of social connections and the avenues to present a film concept like lookbooks as one example. Its rather educational and eye-opening to hear people in the business give their little insight and advice from their own experiences.

However, to say that McConnell’s journey isn’t interesting would be inaccurate. If anything, his journey proves to be one that might be a warning that perseverance is an important element as well as learning along the way. He starts off with one initial project and ends up creating multiple along the way from short films to getting another entirely different movie funded, Lifechanger (review) to add to his own portfolio. McConnell as the subject might not be such an interesting character to follow but he is representative of the everyday person chasing after a dream/passion but it shows a journey of growth as he expands his horizon by talking about the different avenues to present his project and the know-how from finances to creative elements that go into this process and on the social front such as presenting at the Frontieres Market and more.

Overall, Clapboard Jungle is a decent documentary that highlights the obstacles of being a filmmaker while giving both outside perspective and personal experience as a parallel. Its a rather educational sort of documentary and one that might make people reconsider the path of being a filmmaker or on the other hand, as an audience, how we should offer perspective and opinions on what might have been someone’s life for many years. However, the documentary does go a little in circles of things not going the right way so the beginning drags a little bit before things start moving forward. On a more personal level, perhaps its the fact that I’ve seen Lifechanger and enjoyed it quite a bit that seeing this documentary and McConnell’s journey feels much more fascinating. Especially as press and blogger that cover a few genre festivals throughout the year that show even more how much work has gone behind these projects that we see at these festivals and even more legitimate that its part of this year’s Fantasia Festival 2020.

Double Feature: Lifechanger (2018) & Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

double feature

And you thought Fantasia Festival stuff was over, right? Yeah, this double feature comes as something of a surprise as the reviews posted when the movies showed at Fantasia were reviewed by David. I managed to be able to check them out also back then but just kind of needed a break from Fantasia for a moment so here we are, a month after Fantasia closes, to clear out the overdue stuff and get some quick thoughts in for them as these are two selections that are very unique.

Lifechanger (2018)


Director (and writer): Justin McConnell

Cast: Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako, Rachel VanDuzer, Steve Kasan, Bill Oberst Jr.

A murderous shapeshifter sets out on a blood-soaked mission to make things right with the woman he loves. – IMDB

If you haven’t seen or didn’t check out my Poor Agnes review HERE, Lora Burke is a fascinating actress to watch on screen particularly in that role. When I knew she was attached to Lifechanger, count me in. Lifechange isn’t really about Lora Burke’s character in fact, our main character is narrated and keeps changing lives as the title implies. The idea of this character and who he is looms throughout the film as he goes from one body to the next. His situation becoming more in danger than the next as he starts being able to choose his victims carefully until his situation of the body he carries running out of time makes him having to make desperate choices.


Lifechanger is a unique angle to take especially as it seems to challenge the deeper notion of survival versus living. Our main protagonist changes lives so quick and in turn, lives the life of this new person temporarily without any way to settle into anything that makes him truly enjoy life. When does it become all worth this trauma? Is it perhaps asking the deeper question of what we do this for and to what ends?  As much as this movie is fantastic at being this horrifying gruesome experience of the transition and the notion of what this man is about as he filters through all kids of lives in just the short span we were watching, there is an urgency and tension and with that, the film also ramps up the pacing as well in a tight little run time package.

Lifechanger is unique to say the least. Its packed with some pretty impactful moments and strives this balance between some horror elements in a thriller-esque and kind of dramatic story. It works really well and honestly, a great idea in itself.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Director (and writer): Issa Lopez

Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez, Tenoch Huerta, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas

A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. – IMDB

If you don’t know me, you put tigers in a title and I’m in or at least I’ll watch the movie. I actually totally missed this one in the first rundown of the tentative scheduling but saw the poster during the festival and added it on. So lucky that I did because Tigers Are Not Afraid is an exceptional film. Its one of those hidden gems that I’ve heard some people draw comparison to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. I can definitely see how there is a sort of link to it.

tigers are not afraid

Using five children who band together, specifically four boys adding in a girl who comes home and finds her mother missing, is a really broken group in itself as we learn a little about the background of the kids. You can also see how mature especially the leader of the pack, Shine, is in terms of his cautious nature as well as the way he chooses for her to be a part of the group. At the same time, there is a vulnerability to using kids as the main lead because it gives us these kids stuck in a very dangerous situation like living in the cartel and drug war and being caught in the crossfires to make them have to defend themselves in these drastic ways with no one to really turn to. What makes Tigers Are Not Afraid more special is that it never forgets that we are dealing with kids because they still have hope. They believe in the tales about the tigers who protect the neighborhood and draw inspiration from that, we see this with this animated tigers throughout the film in the arts on the wall moving around and even at the scene above with a plush tiger coming to the rescue. And the kids also being still innocent, they bask in the moments they can enjoy being a child again like celebrating their successes and playing when they believe they are safe in the moment.

tigers are not afraid

Being able to bring in this dark material and yet feeling so real in what the kids trapped in the drug war go through in this story (and probably drawing from some reality as it does feel plausible and genuine) and also bringing in those hints of innocence makes this movie so effective. Its has these adorable childlike moments that elevate this movie and make it unique while also ramping the tensions in the movie as the kids try to survive and navigate through this world as they get involved and end up getting dragged into a bigger cartel secret they were never supposed to know in the first place. Its violent, brutal and so very dark but the director never forgets to give this a childlike fantasy touch to pair up with maybe the remaining hope that these children have in their minds, making Tigers Are Not Afraid an outstanding movie and quite the gem that you need to check out if and when you get the chance.