With a collage-like quality, the film 45365 documents the people and events of Sidney, Ohio, a small town nestled on the edges of America’s heartland. Directed by Sidney natives Bill and Turner Ross, the film captures the many dimensions and bucolic qualities of the region over a nine-month period. And just as the numbers 4,5,3,6 and 5 (together the zip code of Sidney) are used to link different segments of the documentary, the Ross brothers film the disparate pieces of the town to form one tight-knit community. It all culminates in a refreshing film whose ultimate goal is to find the personal in the simple.
Not surprisingly, the film focuses on places of community; the carnival, barbershop, church, and high school all radiate with vibrancy, while the less tangible locations of community — the local elections and the radio station, — serve as social lubrication. The radio station is an especially important connective tool, as the music and the voices of the DJs become the coordinates and linking signals between the landscapes of 45365. The Ross brothers skillfully highlight the importance of the radio by editing it into sequences and situations as points of connection between different people, places, and events.
One of the most compelling aspects of the film is how the residents are given the freedom to become icons of shared experience. The portions that embrace this freedom are also the most enchanting ones, especially seen in the kids and young adults who reflect the vitality the camera allows them. Whether it is the boys on the carnival ride or the teenagers at the football game, there is a real palpable energy and promise allotted to these young people. These are also some of the few sequences where non-diegetic music is used, adding an element of nostalgic fantasy or artifice to the segments.
For a film so geographically dependent, there are many events and experiences that help the film transcend its small-town, middle-American curiosities. Bill and Turner Ross make Sidney feel personal to the audience while resisting the impulse to condescend, narrate, or overly contextualize the situations. Going fishing, growing up, getting old, just trying to get by &mdsah; these are all events in 45365 that beg for overwrought interpretation. However, there is a real peace and persistence to the people and circumstances featured in the film, and here they speak for themselves.
Sure, 45365 doesn’t really present any revelations about America’s heartland, and at certain points, it actually reinforces stereotypical assumptions the audience might make about the region. But there is a kind of redemption in the common places where legacy, tradition, and ways of life intersect. It’s impossible to classify a specifically American identity or experience, but the people and images in 45365 exemplify the qualities we may share, represent, or identify within our own communities and within ourselves. We can be both critics and champions of the places we grow up. Bill and Turner Ross manage that responsibility well in 45365, leaving Sidney, Ohio with a legacy that does not move beyond the ordinary, but instead celebrates it with a reserved, honest, and loving reflection.