Directors Bill and Turner Ross on the 5 Films That Inspired Their New Documentary ‘Western’

Below photo of Bill and Turner Ross by Victoria Will // Re-run from Sundance 2015

Set amongst the vast landscape of the American West, Bill and Turner Ross’s latest cinema vérité wonder and Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Western, is both a close examination of modern life and a re-imagining of the cinematic traditions that came before it. Emerging from the “relevance and opportunity that the moment presented,” the idea for the film was sparked while filming their 2013 documentary Tchoupitoulas.

This time around, the Ross Brothers bring us into the world of Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Mexico: two towns on opposites of the border whose harmonious past is ruptured when the looming threat of cartel violence becomes more present than ever. Populated with characters still mingling in the dust of westerns gone by, the film is rife with those whose archetypes precede them, such as fifth-generation cattleman Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster.

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Capturing the overwhelming beauty of the land and the mythology woven between its silence, Bill and Turner tell me that, “Western is as much about those aesthetics as the story it tells. We wanted to confront the images and landscapes and archetypes of our collective mythology — to seek out the true frontier, the real John Wayne, and to frame the reality in that context,” as they spent a lot of time with the, “filmic and visual and literary references, always concerned with balancing the relevant aesthetic with the greater truth.”

As two filmmakers whose constant craving for exploration breathes life into their ideas for each new film, their last three features have all been of a piece, moving forward on a “specific but evolving mission to create American regionalism”—while knowing that their “biggest evolutions are yet ahead.” 

To gain deeper understanding into their affinities as filmmakers, Bill and Turner shared 5 films that have inspired them, both new and old. Check out what they had to say below, and see Western at IFC Center beginning tomorrow.

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WELFARE, Frederick Wiseman

All of life in one film.  Perhaps the greatest of all time.   

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NASHVILLE, Robert Altman

A constant.

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DUSTY AND SWEETS MCGEE, Floyd Mutrux

A film we saw during editing.  We will be stealing everything we can from it in the future.

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THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, William A. Wellman

We watched every Richard Slotkin lecture we could find while making the film. He turned us onto this one.

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APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT, Amanda Wilder

Saw it this past year and was envious of the intimacy of the camera.

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