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Documentary on Rural Poverty Features Southwest Missouri Town, Citizens

Rich Hill documentary website used with permission

Along Interstate 49 between Joplin and Kansas City, The small town of Rich Hill serves as the backdrop of a documentary addressing the realities of rural poverty. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann talked with one of the film’s directors to learn more.

For an in-depth look at the poverty issue, the film “Rich Hill” chronicles the lives of three young boys and their families. Co-director Tracy Droz Tragos says the project took over two years to complete.

“It happens to be the town where I spent a large part of my childhood, so it’s a place that is near and dear to my heart.  At the same time, it explores something that is somewhat hard to address which is poverty, to live in poverty, and some of the challenges these families are facing,” Droz Tragos says.

Returning to Rich Hill as an adult, Droz Tragos says she saw how the town had changed from what it once was, and that many people were suffering with poverty.  She says this small town of around 1300 people relies on farming, and many people cannot find jobs because there is no industry and few small businesses.

Droz Tragos says the three young boys in her documentary were grateful anyone cared to hear their stories.  She explains that poverty can be particularly hard on children because it can severely impact their future.  Chronic poverty is cyclical, she explains, and for many there seems to be no way out.

“It’s not in all moments an easy film to watch, I will acknowledge that. [Because] it deals with some tough stuff—we’re not sugar coating the circumstances.  We’re telling a certain truth and bearing witness to some things that are pretty intense,” says Droz Tragos.

Droz Tragos shares that each of the boys in the film have great strengths which she says we all can learn from; Harley’s amazing sense of humor, Appachey’s capacity for forgiveness and enduring love, and Andrew’s positivity.

In this segment of the film, Andrew is talking about his faith in God.

“This is what goes through my mind—God has to be busy with everyone else.  Eventually He will come into my life.  I hope it happens.  It’s gonna break my heart if it don’t,” says Andrew.

Droz Tragos shares that while the town of Rich Hill is not unique in its economic struggles, she hopes the message will bring awareness of all towns like it across the country.  Isolation is what sets rural poverty apart from urban poverty.

The film has opened the door to looking deeper into rural poverty in Missouri, says Droz Tragos.  She says they are partnering with schools, social workers, and the Full Frame Initiative to find lasting ways to address the problem. 

“My relationship with these three kids continues and I care about them very deeply. They will be part of my life, I hope, indefinitely.  You know, I take away different things from those relationships and I have learned different things from them,” shares Droz Tragos.

The film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary award. After showings last month in New York, St. Louis and Kansas City, the film now comes to Springfield. Beginning Friday evening, “Rich Hill” will play at the Moxie Cinema, and run through next Thursday.

Theresa received her undergraduate degree in sociology at Missouri State University, as well as her Master's degree in Social Work at MSU. Theresa enjoys writing, drawing, reading, music, working with animals, and most of all spending time with her family. She wishes to continue to use her experiences, combined with her pursuit of education, to foster a sense of empowerment and social awareness in the community. Theresa loves working with KSMU and attributes her passion for NPR, and love of learning, to her father.