Small-city life gets big-screen treatment

The directors, brothers Bill and Turner Ross, look at Sidney, Ohio, from the inside out. The directors, brothers Bill and Turner Ross, look at Sidney, Ohio, from the inside out. (Seventh Art Releasing)
By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / September 21, 2010

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Sidney is a town of just over 20,000 in west-central Ohio. About midway between the state capital, Columbus, and Muncie, Ind., it previously had two claims to cultural fame: It was named after Sir Philip Sidney, the English poet, and it’s home to one of the small Midwestern banks that Louis Sullivan designed at the end of his career.

Now Sidney has another: this documentary film about it.

“45365’’ (the town’s ZIP code) is the work of two brothers, Bill and Turner Ross. Sidney natives, they look at the town from the inside out: with affection, yes, and also without illusions. The downtown looks very nice, for example, but at 9 p.m. on a weekend night it is empty.

The Rosses offer a slice of life — or, rather, multiple small slices forming one larger whole — from 2007. They start in the spring, with the Shelby County Fair, and end with the first major snowstorm, in December.

There’s no voiceover or narrative through line, although the passing of freight trains is a recurring visual motif. Also, certain people keep showing up. A radio announcer for a local station, WMVR, “Hits 105.5.’’ A judge running for reelection. The high school football coach (inevitably). An ex-con, his wife, and their son. The most intense scene in what is an otherwise-relaxed unfolding of tableaux and events comes when the mother confronts the son with having stolen something from her purse. The confrontation takes place in a car. They’re in the front seat, with the camera inches away in back. Thankfully, “45365’’ isn’t in 3-D.

If it were, you can safely assume the Rosses would put the additional dimension to good use. They share an impressive directorial eye. There’s a wondrous sequence of tracking shots showing trick-or-treaters making their sugar-seeking rounds, as well as lovely brief glimpses of a field of fireflies, a pep-rally bonfire, and, in long shot, a car spinning around in a snow-covered mall parking lot.

For such a small place (officially a city, Sidney sure feels like a town), it’s strikingly diverse. We visit a factory floor, an African-American church, cornfields, and a farmer with bats in his barn. That’s along with scenes of the barber shop, an Elvis impersonator (he has the girth and sideburns down, and comes close enough vocally), a polling place, police in patrol cars, photo day for the football team, an arrest, a high school dance, the annual Applefest, a father reading to his toddler at bedtime, and a bride getting ready for her wedding. Can a single head really accommodate that many curlers? It can if the Rosses are behind the camera.

Mark Feeney can be reached at


Directed by: Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross

At: Museum of Fine Arts

93 minutes

Unrated (occasional teen-uttered obscenities)

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