Two Documentaries Ask: Who Really Lives in Middle America? Two Documentaries Ask: Who Really Lives in Middle America?

Two Documentaries Ask: Who Really Lives in Middle America?

by Jesse Ashlock

February 19, 2010
This is the first entry in a new series exploring filmmaking for social good. Still frame above from
October Country. 

The films October Country and 45365 look at the people living in the middle of the country, not just the statistics and political punchlines they represent.

American politicians, our current President included, have long been fond of invoking the residents of the country's vast midsection to push their agendas. The national media is just as fond of fetishizing Middle America, especially since the onset of the recession, which has hit Middle American strongholds like Michigan and Ohio particularly hard. In these tellings, Middle Americans aren't actual people; instead, they're rhetorical constructs meant to communicate abstract ideas about pluck, generosity, and scrappy virtue.So who really lives in Middle America? The new documentaries October Country and 45365 both seek to put a human face on this quasi-mystical land. Both are the work of native sons who returned home, and had unique access to their subjects. Both are portraits of places, made around the same time, which have gained unexpected resonance in light of the recession: October Country was shot in 2006 and 2007 and chronicles 12 months in the life of the Mohawk Valley region of New York State, while 45365, shot entirely in 2007, captures nine months in the life of Sidney, Ohio, a town about 40 miles north of Dayton. Both are authentic and intimate, eschewing narration and linear narrative in an effort to capture life as it's lived. And, despite all those similarities, they're completely different films, defying the idea of a single, monolithic Middle America.October Country, which just began a national theatrical release, is the cinematic outgrowth of the writing and still photography Donal Mosher has done about his family for many years. With co-director Michael Palmieri, a veteran of commercials and music videos, Mosher visited his family four times over the course of a year, charting the disappointments, frustrations, and small triumphs of four generations of Moshers. He does not appear in the film, but his presence is implied by the on-screen comfort of his kin, who've clearly become inured to the camera after many years of having their pictures taken. Mosher and Palmieri gave the film the tag line "Every family has its ghosts," and in the year they document the Mosher clan, appropriately bookended by two Halloweens, they find plenty.[
/vimeo]Even though one of 45365's main threads is a local judge's re-election campaign, the closest the film gets to a political statement is when one local, wearing a sweatshirt that says "Walking with God in Tough Times," declares, "I don't vote Democrat or Republican. I vote for the right person." Like October Country, the politics here are implicit, not stated-it's a portrait, not an "issue film." October Country co-director Palmieri could be speaking for either film when he says, "It's not ‘here are three things you can do.' It's more about bearing witness."Jesse Ashlock is a writer living in Brooklyn.
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Two Documentaries Ask: Who Really Lives in Middle America?