More so than any other summer in recent memory, this year great documentaries are flooding through the marketplace at a rapid clip, whether on TV (HBO will host Sundance faves “Smash His Camera,” “Gasland” and “A Small Act” in the weeks ahead), online (the always reliable SnagFilms.com) or in theaters (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” AJ Schnack’s “Convention” and Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border” before the end of June). With that in mind, we’d like to take the chance to shine a light on some of the best nonfiction films being released over the next month in this summer weekly column.
Certainly, that’s true of “45365,” the feature debut from Bill and Turner Ross, which took a circuitous route around the festival circuit (where it earned prizes at SXSW and Full Frame) before premiering online last summer on Hulu for a week and eventually winning this year’s Truer Than Fiction Award at the Spirit Awards. (As it happens, the Ross brothers were recently dubbed IFC Icons to boot.)
Still, it should be best enjoyed on the big screen at the Anthology Film Archives, where it begins a one-week run in New York where the Ross’ elegant, elliptical portrait of their hometown of Sidney, Ohio will be presented in its full glory.
One could call the film a slice of life from a small town, but in reality, it’s many slices — larger in scope when following the ups and downs of the Sidney High School Yellow Jacket football team and the door-to-door campaigning of local judge Donald Luce, and filled in by the small pleasures of eavesdropping on a discussion about the joys of QVC at a retirement home and the ribbon-cutting of a new bridge.
As Turner Ross says, “The type of filmmaking that we’re trying to do is not getting out there and telling people how to feel about what we’ve done.” Indeed, there’s nothing forced about their approach, which takes hundreds of seemingly unrelated moments and weaves them together, seamlessly blending a scene of a camera rolling by the streets of Sidney as harried mothers and fathers accompany their children on Halloween with the claustrophobic bickering of the Dwyer family, a mother and son who it could be said have “trust issues.”
After roughly seven years away from the Midwest, the Ross brothers returned to Sidney for nine months in 2007 to capture all of this and more, trading on previous relationships and making new ones.
“I’m always surprised by what people are willing to share, but really those [more intimate] moments are just a result of friendships that we’ve made,” said Bill Ross. “The end result, which is the film, is good and that’s fine and that’s why we’re there, but really what we get most out of what we do is the relationships and the experiences and the stories that we get to tell.”
But it didn’t come easy. Turner Ross spent over a year in the editing room finding the right order and tone for the film and used the first six months after filming “just to get a grasp on it.”
“Being in a room by yourself for so long, the footage starts to talk to you,” said Turner Ross. “You look at one scene and it says, ‘I need to be in there’ and then you look at another, which you thought in the beginning should be in there, but it’ll say ‘you’re an idiot, why would you ever even consider putting this in a film?'”
They had a lot of time to think about it; the Ross brothers had been considering making something that would capture where they grew up since high school, but were unsure what form it would take until they spent time in Los Angeles working production jobs on other people’s pictures and decided to strike up a feature on their own.
“We made a film and we made it in the way that we wanted to make it,” said Turner Ross. “It isn’t supposed to be some sort of thesis statement on small-town America or the plight of the Midwestern small town. It’s simply a film about moments and time spent with people.”
Expect them continue to do the same with their immediate filmmaking future. Though IndieWIRE already tipped the Ross brothers’ next project as the similarly unusually titled “Tchoupitoulas” — another nine-month sojourn, this time to New Orleans, viewing the city through the eyes of three brothers — they’re already working on a follow-up.
“We kind of forgot to cut [“Tchoupitoulas”],” said Turner Ross, who added, “We’ve been here shooting in a small town in South Texas for a couple months now.”
When asked what it might be about, Ross replied, “We’ll tell you when we know.” If “45365” is any indication, the wait to find out will be worth it.
Take a look at some footage from the upcoming “Tchoupitoulas” below: