When filmmakers brothers Turner and Bill Ross set out to make a documentary about their hometown, they wanted to depict the emotions and nuances of growing up in the Midwest.
"It wasn’t going to be a narrative or History Channel documentary," Turner Ross said after "45365" was shown Friday at the 13th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival. "We wanted to go back and capture a feeling."
They succeeded. One audience member said the documentary "was like smelling fresh-cut grass or being home for Christmas." Another said "it tells us how similar we are."
The two lovingly crafted the 90-minute slices-of-life documentary from 500 hours of video they shot over nine months in 2007 in Sidney, in west central Ohio. Bill Turner edited the video; at least one Ebertfest-goer called his editing masterful. "45365" is their first feature-length documentary.
When shooting the doc, the brothers tried to look for and follow generic characters — cops, criminals, the elderly — and a judge seeking re-election who had, the brothers admitted, guided them earlier in their lives. The two both moved away from Sidney when they turned 18. Turner is now 28 and Bill, 30.
"In very few instances did we know the persons we wanted to spend time with," Bill said. "We would go out every day and follow the person. We would jump all over the place. If we were in a restaurant with somebody and saw something interesting going on we’d move over to it."
The documentary is remarkable in showing intimate moments as well as incidents most people would not want on film: a woman being busted the second time for driving under the influence of alcohol, an ex-con being handcuffed and taken to jail on a warrant, a young man being handcuffed inside a courthouse.
The young man, Justin, had been Turner’s best friend when he was 11; Justin is now in a super-max prison but the two still correspond.
Bill Ross said 99 percent of the people in Sidney were OK with being filmed.
"People were intrigued by what we were doing or were confused and didn’t tell us to go away," Turner said.
The documentary also shows many Norman Rockwell moments: a young bride, her hair in curlers, applying makeup before her wedding; boys talking to each other while on a carnival ride at the Shelby County Fair; a driver doing doughnuts in an empty, snow-covered parking lot; men and boys getting their hair cut in a barber shop; a high school football coach giving his team a pep talk before a big game.
The threads that hold together the documentary — it has no narration or voice overs — are scenes of a personality on air at a radio station and the trains that pass through Sidney, a town of 20,000 where the Ross brothers’ mother still lives. She drove to Champaign to see the screening at Ebertfest.
After Chaz Ebert introduced the brother filmmakers on stage, Turner quipped, "This is far and away the largest audience we’ve had for this film." He thanked Roger Ebert for changing the trajectory of their career by writing a "glowing review" of "45365," released in 2009. It is not yet on DVD but has made the festival circuit, winning best documentary at the SXSW Film Festival.
"As it stands, right now it's a black maket film," Turner said.
The brothers brought to the Virginia for Roger Ebert a copy of the Sidney Daily News, which reported on its front page Ebert’s naming the documentary to his list of the 10 best movies of the year. The Rosses are now working on two others, one shot at night in New Orleans and the other a documentary in a small town along the Texas-Mexico border.