Jungle Fever

Indie filmmaker Justin McConnell interviews numerous names in Clapboard Jungle, from Guillermo Del Toro, Dick Miller, Tom Savini, Sid Haig, and other notables. The chats appear to go well in the included footage. And then he features the tensest interview possible: his parents.

Clapboard Jungle follows McConnell, successes and failures both, as he tries to navigate the modern indie scene. Where the digital marketplace seems (to an outsider) ready-made for indies, is shown as a mess of content. The same faults that hinder online publishing (which requires ever more product and diminishing returns) weigh on McConnell’s chosen path too.

Clapboard Jungle plays more like a FAQ on how to find an “in”

In narrative terms, exposing the nightmarish, convoluted business side to the micro budget movie industry works as a compliment to the great Big Picture by Ben Fritz, which explored the major studio side. Combined, the two bridge the industry’s finances. Or in some cases, total lack thereof.

Eventually, Clapboard Jungle turns to a central focus – McConnell’s Lifechanger. From there, Clapboard Jungle plays more like a FAQ on how to find an “in” and see a project through. Interviews focus less on the complexities than they do on reaching contacts, making deals, meetings, and other behind-the-scenes processes.

That’s not as interesting to a wide audience most likely, although McConnell’s journey remains engaging. There’s a want to see him win something after years of struggles, making himself the hero and protagonist in his own movie (comically played up in the first few minutes). Then comes Lifechanger, with a title that seems self-referential in retrospect. Finding a home for that project seems as if it’s a breakout moment, and satisfying point to end Clapboard Jungle.

There’s unavoidably a “woe-is-me” quality to McConnell’s effort here. While always fighting and never whining, the nature of using himself as the central figure feels off, maybe self-promotional. Then again, who can blame him given the current financial conditions? It’s almost a shame the cut-off point happened pre-COVID; imagine the additional mess that created. And, McConnell is wise to dedicate a segment to women filmmakers, expanding on the privileges he’s given that they aren’t. That helps dampen the self-indulgent vibe, and seems worthy of a full documentary on its own.


Captured on a variety of sources, Clapboard Jungle veers all over the place in visual quality. Web cams, VHS footage, and professional grade digital cameras drop in and out. The best is the latter (obviously) offering great fidelity and reasonable sharpness.

Some noise pushes in, not unexpectedly. Arrow’s compression keeps the worst from falling off into something worse. Film clips look pulled from DVD, or maybe akin to a compressed stream. For a documentary, it’s fine.

Moderate color and decent contrast stay consistent, the two things that remain stable regardless of the source.


DTS-HD 5.1 won’t stretch a home theater. Being dialog driven, the center channel takes on most of the work. It’s all balanced, clear, and manages to reduce background noise during certain interviews at no sacrifice to quality.


Justin McConnell provides a solo commentary, then joins his crew on a second track, and then finally, there’s a panel commentary. Nearly 30-minutes of deleted scenes offer added commentary from McConnell. Two of McConnell’s other feature length documentaries come next, and yes, with individual commentaries. A collection of short films stretch past the hour mark… with commentary.

Extended interviews run – ready for this? – five hours. That must be a record for home video. You can always choose which to watch in the menu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Clapboard Jungle
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An interesting peak at the stresses of indie filmmaking, Clapboard Jungle works even as it becomes a documentary tutorial in the back half.

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