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Bates County, Missouri.

The film Rich Hill, directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. A trailer:

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

‘Rich Hill’ is a vivid portrait of a poor Missouri town

….Rich Hill, Mo., is a town of 1,396 souls, halfway between Kansas City and Joplin. The evocative documentary named for the town focuses on three dirt-poor boys whose lives are effectively over before they are old enough to drive….

In New York Magazine/Vulture:

8/1/2014 at 2:15 PM

Rich Hill: This Vital Documentary Gives You a World of Hurt

By David Edelstein

….There is one omission – obviously deliberate – that brought me up short. Palermo and Tragos have left their subjects’ politics out of the film. Do these people have a sense of what has happened to the larger economy (and culture) that has led to the conditions in which they live? Do they blame the government, immigrants, urban welfare cheats, bankers, capitalism, socialism – anything or anyone? Or do politics simply not factor into their thinking? Perhaps the directors wanted to forestall partisan judgments. But politics do factor in my – and, I presume, your – thinking. This vital documentary gives you a world of hurt, prescribes nothing, and calls the ultimate questions you can ask as an American.

At RogerEbert.com:

Rich Hill

Godfrey Cheshire

August 1, 2014

….The most salient virtue of “Rich Hill” is how carefully phrased its sympathetic portrayals of its main characters are. We cannot help but be drawn to all three boys and moved by their struggles and their families’ travails. Yet this leaves us in a paradoxical position. On the one hand, we can see the pluck and resilience….to the extent of imagining that these qualities and their individual talents might rescue them from bad later lives. Yet, coming at a time when the dire effects of America’s economic inequality are more and more in the news, we’re given potent reminders of how limited and bleak the chances of such kids usually are.

The Dissolve:

July 29, 2014

Rich Hill

by Scott Tobias

….While Tragos and Palermo don’t make it their mission to extinguish all hope, few films are as suggestive of the long odds facing the poorest of the poor. A boy who bathes in water heated by a hot iron and a coffeepot isn’t thinking about college and a career and the house with the white picket fence; he just wants to survive the day and pray for a better tomorrow.


“…There is one omission – obviously deliberate – that brought me up short. Palermo and Tragos have left their subjects’ politics out of the film….”

That quote from a review led us to look at the 2012 General Election results for the two Rich Hill precincts in Bates County:

110612 General Election

Time: 8:47:35 PM

Page 8 of 20


RICH HILL NORTH 590 Reg. Voters 364 Total Votes

TERESA HENSLEY [Dem] 115 31.59%

VICKY HARTZLER [Rep] 240 65.93%


GREG COWAN 1 0.27%

RICH HILL SOUTH 770 Reg. Voters 466 Total Votes

TERESA HENSLEY [Dem] 165 35.41%

VICKY HARTZLER [Rep] 278 59.66%


GREG COWAN 4 0.86%

[emphasis added]

The district is represented in Congress by Vicky Hartzler (r) and in the 2012 election the voters in the Rich Hill precincts overwhelmingly supported her reelection.

The district wide results were somewhat similar:

Official Election Returns

State of Missouri – General Election, Tuesday, November 06, 2012

As announced by the Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday, December 05, 2012

U.S. Representative – District 4 (413 of 413 Precincts Reported)

Teresa Hensley Democrat 113,120 35.5%

Vicky Hartzler Republican 192,237 60.3%

Thomas Holbrook Libertarian 10,407 3.3%

Greg Cowan Constitution 2,959 0.9%

Total Votes 318,723

[emphasis added]

And then there’s this August 7, 2014 interview on The Daily Show of filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos about the documentary:


Jon Stewart: ….it’s, you know, what, what’s, what’s interesting to me is, so, we have this image, you know, there is a certain population in this country that believes that poverty is lack of virtue. And here you have just laid out the humanity of these kids going through their struggles, the, uh, uh, difficulty they have in claiming their virtue, and, and in just trying to get by. And you cannot help but think we are saddling a generation with just baggage that is, you know, you’d have to be Sisyphus to get out of.

Tracy Droz Tragos: Yeah, I mean,  you know, I was so impressed with the resilience of these kids…. His hard work is simply not gonna be enough. He has so many challenges in his life. Um, and that’s the thing that I hope in some ways this film will kind of shift the conversation around, which is, you know,  that, that, it’s just, uh, folks are lazy or it’s their choice if they find themselves, you know. [crosstalk]

Jon Stewart: I would like anybody to walk a mile in these kids’ shoes and, and see how well you can do. And what I thought was interesting is so the congresswoman in, in those kids’ district voted to cut SNAP funding which I thought was stunning. And I don’t, I don’t know how you are able to sleep with that decision. It’s, it’s mind blowing….


[emphasis added]

Sad and ironic at the same time, isn’t it?