Brother documentarians Bill and Turner Ross turn their attentions to the Texas/ Mexico border for Western an astoundingly evocative examination of US border politics. Martin Wall, a fifth-generation cattleman, lives an idyllic existence in Eagle Pass, raising his young daughter with his friends and trading with the people of Piedras Negras. Chad Foster is a well-loved mayor and local who passionately battles the ignorance of the surrounding areas to endorse a culture-hybridity.
Western is more of a docu-drama thanks to the fly-on-the-wall style. Keeping narration and the filmmaking process out of the way lets this particular, and frankly immersive, portrait play out. Like its namesake, the Ross brother’s feature plays with all the narrative clichés of a traditional Western, drawing comparisons here and there to highlight how different the Piedras Negras/Eagle Pass relation is compared to seemingly every other town on the border. Not just that, but it’s an ode to a civilisation that has long stood the test of cartel influence, charging its social relations with pride, honour and a genuine sense of community.
Sadly, Western documents the shifting point in this relation: the eventual invasion of a violent front, fear mongering, scapegoating, and what effect these have on the people who call this place home. Interestingly the film slowly turns into a kind of new western, a contemporary case study in violence and racism where the old ideals of the west are disgracefully drudged up by small-minded people. Considering his town an example of what could be achieved if people stopped blaming the Mexicans for America’s problems, Foster is a fascinating and admirable figure, trying desperately to stop the engines of change. As he says, drugs come from Mexico, but where does the demand come from? By the end of the film, you, like Martin Wall, Foster, and the Ross brothers themselves, will hold the US government in contempt for allowing sheer ignorance to crush one of the few successful cross-cultural communities on the border.
A stirring piece of work, powerful and ingenuously shot with pitch-perfect editing and perfectly framed images which tell 90% of the story. By the end a dark shadow of cartel violence, along with a 49 billion dollar fence, block out the sunlight of this once beautiful community. Stellar work from the Ross brothers.
Dir. The Ross Brothers