Award-winning Film Documents Life in Rural Missouri
By Lisa Pruitt

Rich Hill, a film about rural life in Missouri, won the prize for best documentary at Sundance this year.

Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said about the film on its opening in New York City, “Exit the interstate to venture across the moonscape of rural America, and you may glimpse a breed of alien that looks vaguely human but subsists on our trash. They’re called the poor, and although their city cousins get some occasional, sensationalized coverage in the press, the whiter and more-numerous rural poor are almost invisible.”

Williams writes that the three “dirt-poor” boys, aged 12, 13, and 15, whose lives the film follows “are effectively over before they are old enough to drive.”  

Williams lauds the film’s “exquisite imagery and the bittersweet focus on character.” 

Rich Hill, named for the area’s productive farmland, is in west central Missouri between Kansas City and Joplin. The town’s population is 1,396, and it is in Bates County, population 16,500.   Bates County, which rests against the Kansas state line,  has a poverty rate of 17%.  The population is 94.9% non-Hispanic white. 

With a real nod to the significance of place and how geography is destiny, Williams closes his review with this line: “But perhaps the saddest thing about the film is the thought that nobody raised in Rich Hill could have made it.”

Lisa Pruitt is a Professor of Law at UC Davis and a faculty affiliate of the Center for Poverty Research.

(article adapted from Legal Ruralism)