There’s something to be said for trust. When an artist trusts their talent, they can let a story unfold organically…eschewing flash and gimmickry and instead letting the subject matter speak for itself. Likewise, there’s the trust that comes with sitting down with the other side. What begins as an “other” soon gets faces, names, and circumstances we can understand and appreciate.

It’s finding the guts to be trusting that’s the tricky part.

WESTERN is the story of two border towns: Piedras Negras, Mexico and Eagle Pass, Texas. Despite decades of mutual peace and co-existence, plans are afoot to build a more secure perimeter on the international border that separates the two communities. The film examines life on both sides from the point of view of both leaders and followers, and considers how much life is going to change for all involved.

The beautiful thing about a film like WESTERN is how that summary tells you what happens, but not really what it’s about. Were that the main thrust of the film, we would be given history lessons about how the two nations were dealing with cross-border traffic, trade, and a symbiotic economy. Instead, the film wants to immerse us in the sights and sounds of these cultures and let it all wash over us. It finds true beauty in the working class, and the powers of nature that surround them. While the story is intimate, it plays out with the wallop of a John Ford film: visually sprawling and suitably epic.

The Ross brothers’ directing has a way of making the everyday seem grand. They can turn an evening out into a boisterous adventure, and can make a small town festival seem like the last night of Mardi Gras. They do it with lush imagery and especially do it with intricate sound design. WESTERN kicks out the cinema walls from around us and makes us feel like we are surrounded by the wilds and winds of the Southwest. Whether its the roll of thunder of an incoming storm, or the twitter of birds as the sun starts to rise, this documentary surrounds the senses and truly transports you to this intriguing spot on the map.

The film is a microcosm for America’s immigration debate and seems to underline that so much of that debate is fueled by the unknown. When we see these two communities interact, it’s clear that there is a trust between them. In the grand scheme, the people of America might not be willing to open their arms to Mexico, but within this film, it’s understood that the people of Eagle Pass are willing to open their arms to the people of Piedras Negras. They’ve met them, they know them. There’s a human trust that goes beyond political rhetoric and is held fast by the pillars of each community.

WESTERN is an example of how small stories can become grand films in the right hands. It’s lush, colourful, and filled with life. I highly recommend seeing it on the biggest screen you can find with the volume turned up loud.


WESTERN plays at Hot Docs 2015 tomorrow, Monday April 27th – 6:30pm at The Lightbox. It plays again at Isabel Bader Theatre on Wednesday April 29th – 1:30pm, at The Lightbox on Friday May 1st – 1:45pm, and finally at The Revue on Saturday May 2nd – 1:30pm (official website)