The Ross brothers redefine the Western
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Documentary directors and brothers Bill and Turner Ross have made a career out of examining microcosms in the modern American landscape, from their first film, “45365,” about their middle-class hometown of Sidney, Ohio, to “Tchoupitoulas,” which follows three young brothers wandering New Orleans at night.
Their latest, “Western,” takes them to a foreign territory: the border.
The film, which picked up a special jury award for verite filmmaking at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, transports the audience to the once harmonious, now violence-plagued border towns of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Mexico.
“The Rio Grande is a natural boundary in visualizing the frontier. If you’re talking about something as visual as a film and using landscapes, I think the most iconic way to do that is to see two cities on either side of the river,” Turner Ross said over breakfast at Park City’s High West Distillery & Saloon.
This new frontier is shown through the eyes of cattleman Martin (pronounced “Marteen”) Wall and the longtime mayor Chad Foster, both of whom have had their livelihoods challenged by the increasingly imminent threat of cartel violence.
But it’s not a political movie. “Western” is atmospheric, inventive and immersive.
Their father, a high school history teacher, taught them that history is not just “facts and texts.”
“Those people are real and they fell in and out of love and they had dreams. He instilled in us an appreciation of the moment you’re in. We’ve always tried to capture the fleeting moment,” said Bill Ross.
Inspired by the likes of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” ″The Ox-Bow Incident” and “a lot of the psychedelic Westerns of the ’70s,” the Ross brothers set up residency in town for 13 months, entrenching themselves in the lives of the townspeople.
While shooting, Wall even took the time to take Turner Ross shopping for more appropriate frontier clothes.
“A couple of times it just got too real and it wasn’t worth it. We like making movies, we like going on adventures, but if someone gets lost? It ain’t worth it,” said Bill Ross.
“We had to make sure we were with the right people, shaking the right hands. As Bill said, we weren’t trying to get killed,” added Turner Ross.
Ultimately, though, the Ross brothers are just interested in people and “sitting on a porch with somebody all day and trying to get a better grasp of what they’re doing,” said Bill Ross.
“It’s our life as well, and in the end there’s a document to share,” said Turner Ross.
″(Westerns) represent the times that they’re from. That’s why we engage that genre. That’s why we call the film that. How does this medium that is at once so familiar in everyone’s personal mythology also reflect the times that it’s a part of?” said Turner Ross.
Up next? The Northeast.
“That one’s more about the people than the place, though,” said Bill Ross.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr