Thanks to the venturesome folks at the Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks, H-Town audiences have a one-night-only opportunity to see one of the most impressive American nonfiction films of recent vintage: 45365, winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival and, not incidentally, the very first honoree to receive the inaugural Chaz & Roger Ebert Truer Than Fiction Award bestowed last spring at the Independent Spirit Awards.
It will play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse — and I’ll be on hand to introduce it.
So what’s it all about? Nothing in particular — and yet, in many ways, everything that’s important. 45365 is an up-close and irony-free view of life beyond the bright lights of big cities that demands — and rewards — close attention. By tightly focusing on particulars, it mines universal truths.
Meticulously balancing cinéma vérité intimacy and dreamlike reverie, 45365 fashions a seductive, fascinating tapestry of small-town life by interweaving seemingly random glimpses of residents in Sidney, Ohio. Sibling filmmakers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross are natives of the Ohio hamlet, which may explain how they gained the confidence of the unaffected locals. Even so, the Ross brothers often come across as dispassionate anthropologists, treating their subjects with a bemused curiosity that, fortunately, never curdles into condescension.
Rarely devoting more than a few minutes to any single sequence, 45365 (Sidney's zip code) captures events over a few weeks in autumn 2007. Townspeople appear at gatherings — a country fair, a court hearing, high school football games — and in their homes, only occasionally addressing the camera.
A few plot lines are forged through the accumulation of disparate details. A reckless young man moves inexorably toward arrest and trial, much to his anxious mom's dismay. Another fellow, appreciably older, faces charges of drunk driving. Two of his ex-wives follow the progress of the case, taking time to argue over why (and when) he left one and then married the other.
For the most part, however, it's left to the viewer to draw connections and conclusions while hearing the snappy patter of the local radio DJs, noting the ebb and flow of romantic relationships and hoping the best for participants in a local carnival that runs the risk of being rained out.
Roger Ebert has called 45365 “an achingly beautiful film” — thanks to the Ross brothers’ exceptional high-def videography — and marveled: “There is a beautiful shot during a church service which pans slowly to the right over the congregation and pauses looking into a door to a stairwell. A woman and small girl come up the stairs. The camera follows them back to the left until the girl is deposited back in her pew, having obviously just been taken to the potty. Were those two people cued?
"Obviously not. I suggest the cameraman, Bill or Turner, observed them getting up, intuited where they were going and why, and composed the camera movement instinctively. A brief shot you may not even consciously notice, but a perfect shot, reading the room as our minds do. All human life is in it.”
Yes, it is.
Watch the trailer for 45365: