Rich Hill, playing at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, is a poignant observational snapshot of three boys on separate, but similar, journeys through the early days of youth, as spent in America’s povertystricken heartland.

Poverty is crushing. But it’s always amazing to see that the human spirit, especially in children, is remarkably diffi cult to smother. This film allows us to be temporarily privy to the innermost secrets of three fledgling souls, and America as seen by its forgotten children. A series of brilliantly captured, very real moments, create a visceral window into the lives of destitute youth, and provides provocative commentary on the “land of the free”.

Meet Harley: he just turned 16 and is living with the scars of extreme trauma, and the consequent anger. But he always wants to make everyone laugh; he carries a deep love and devotion toward his family, like a torch through a rainstorm.

Appachey: 12. He’s a kid with serious attitude and a chip on his shoulder too big for any 40-yearold to carry. Despite his situation, he charmingly finds art in his surrounding squalorscapes.

Andrew: 13. Dreaming big and pumping iron, he is kind-hearted and extremely determined. He has a fi re that won’t be easily extinguished, but he’s in serious need of some kindling. Andrew tells us he’s waiting for God to send him help, but that he understands He must be busy.

If images of mediocrity have ever been beautiful, they are here. Moments of hope and despair mingle to create a true-tolife portrait of America’s poor. A lovely sequence in this film invites us to walk and play with some very real kids on a magical summer evening.

Innocence owns these moments: young boys race with one another, seeking joy in the simple sensation of self-propelled locomotion, while little girls turn cartwheels and are happily mesmerized at the dancing light of sparklers in a soft twilight. But the all too sobering reality of the life at home makes these fleeting moments of happiness surreal.

Peppered throughout the film are spectacles of fireworks and brass bands flaunting the stars and stripes. The parading is inglorious if it’s considered from the viewpoint of these kids, acting as loud and brash reminders of their inferiority and shortcomings. It’s the bedazzled glorification of the very same nation that unjustly imprisons Harley’s mother and offers no way out from vicious cycles of poverty for tens of millions of people.

Poverty is not the only social issue touched in Rich Hill. Mental illness and trauma are prominent problems for these families as well. So is an unreasonable expectation for children to remain calm and productive in school whilst their home lives and families are in shambles. The film addresses the fundamental problem of the underprivileged. The mentally ill are pigeonholed and treated with the same ineffective pill. A lack of support and proper care for the mental health of these people is an epidemic.

Rich Hill paints an emotional human face on statistics. It’s an important film with huge implications that reveals an undeniable tenderness in “bad” kids that is too often callously and carelessly missed by the authority figures in their lives. Simultaneously, it reveals in these children an amazingly resilient optimism that desperately awaits an outlet. You won’t soon forget the forgotten American children vicariously befriended in this fi lm. The struggles of the world’s needy resonate through the hard-hitting stories of Harley, Andrew, and Appachey.

Rich Hill screens at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 19 at the Yukon Arts Centre as part of the Available Light Cinema series.