Film Reviews

REVIEW: Western

Hot Docs 2015


USA/Mexico, 96 min.
Directed by Bill and Turner Ross
International Premiere

With their previous efforts 45365, Tchoupitoulas, and the serialized travelogue River, documentarians Bill and Turner Ross established themselves as free-wheeling, vérité humanists: Mark Twain by way of Frederick Wiseman. Their previous examinations of small town lives and local colour were artful and enthralling, but the Rosses’ most recent effort, Western, offers them their most concrete narrative focal point to date without hindering the authorial voice that made their previous outings marvelously entertaining works of honest art.

Ever since the establishment of Texas into the American union, the border crossing between the town of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico was one of the safest in the world. The relationship between the communities, separated only by the narrow banks of the Rio Grande, was based on mutual cultural respect, admiration, friendship, and relatively free trade moving back and forth. Sadly, things have begun to change due to the encroaching threat of drug cartel violence around the border. Almost overnight, citizens on both sides of the border have had to come to terms with mounting security concerns.

Functioning as an elegy to a vanishing aspect of North American culture, the Ross brothers have createt their first film with a concrete narrative throughline, telling the story primarily through the eyes of respected, longtime sheriff Chad Foster and cattle rancher Martín Wall, a family man trying to reconcile a potential loss of business due to border closures. No one on either side of the border wants to believe that outside violence could infiltrate the community, lending the film an air of lachrymose resignation.

Bill and Turner Ross remain objective journalists, but unlike their most recent films, this celebration of small town rhythms and idiosyncrasies becomes something far more poignant and pointed. There are still side trips to bullfights and parades, but their focus has been narrowed considerably to one important topic and a pair of primary viewpoints with different concerns. The filmmakers generate earned sympathy without much manipulation of their footage. It’s their best assembled, most mature effort to date, further establishing the pair as two of the most thoughtful voices in documentary.

Hot Docs 2015 Screenings
Mon, Apr 27 6:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox

Wed, Apr 29 1:30 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre

Fri, May 1 1:45 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sat, May 2 1:30 PM
Revue Cinema

Click here for more of POV’s coverage of the 2015 Hot Docs Festival!

Andrew Parker is almost a twenty year veteran when it comes to film criticism. Previously, he was the Film and Performing Arts Editor for the website Dork Shelf, and his work has appeared in NOW Magazine, The Boston Globe, t.o. night, Exclaim, Reader’s Digest, The Onion AV Club, and plenty of other places that you probably have/haven’t heard of. He also occasionally pops up on TV, but blink and you might miss him. Raised in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, he has called Toronto home for the past decade.

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