Bill and Turner Ross continue to explore their fascination with the lives of ordinary people in American towns and cities in their latest documentary, Western. A story about survival and independence in the face of senseless violence on the border between Texas and Mexico, the Sundance winner screens Sunday, March 22 and Monday, March 23 at the 44th New Directors/New Films.
Bill and Turner Ross, 2015, 93 min.
Description: Drug cartel violence and border politics threaten the neighborly rapport enjoyed for generations between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Mexico. In their trenchant and passionately observed documentary, Bill and Turner Ross render palpable the unease and uncertainty of decent, hardworking folk as they are buffeted by forces beyond their control, including senseless acts of torture, murders committed just outside their homes, and the temporary USDA ban on livestock trade. Drawing on archetypes of rugged individualism and community, Western focuses on Mayor Chad Foster, who presides over Eagle Pass with a winning, conspiratorial smile; José Manuel Maldonado, his kindly Piedras Negras mayoral counterpart; and Martin Wall, a cattle rancher whose Marlboro Man stoicism melts away in the presence of his young daughter, Brylyn. Western firmly positions the Ross brothers at the frontier of a new, compelling kind of American vernacular cinema.
Responses from Turner Ross and Bill Ross:
On what drew them to filmmaking and sibling collaboration:
[We liked] the opportunity to work in collaboration with my brother. Also, it's a versatile, multifaceted medium that has allowed not only for a broad harvesting of creative intrigues but also an epic and immersive journey into the lives of others.
On the great legends of Westerns:
We wanted to know what John Wayne really looked like—how the mythic silhouettes our culture has propagated translate to the modern reality.
On looking for a story to tell:
We scouted the border towns of New Mexico and Texas, looking for the images and archetypes that we wanted to see… and then found the symbiotic towns of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, an iconic figure and true gentlemen, started opening doors for us immediately.
On the dangers of documenting a border war:
We embedding ourselves in a border town for 13 months—away from our families and friends—at a time when journalists were being executed. Leaving home to intimately invest in the lives of others is a bizarre experience—fruitful for the document, but confusing in its personal toll. We're interested in making movies—artful documents of the times and places we are a part of—but getting killed in the process is not conducive to the future of our journey. There is also life.
On very different future stories:
We're headed off the beaten path a bit this summer, documenting a bizarre series of concerts that David Byrne is orchestrating.