Directed by: Alex Nevill
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Maria Athayde
The dictionary defines ferroequinology as the study of railways in general and the study of locomotives in particular. So when I heard that a documentary called “Ferroequinology” was being screened at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival I jumped at the opportunity to cover it. I have always been fascinated with travel by rail so this documentary directed by Alex Nevill was the perfect opportunity to learn more about railways.
With a concise 1 hour and 6 minutes runtime, this documentary is better felt than explained. Beautifully shot in black and white this documentary follows two artists, Andrew Cross and McNair Evans, and their passion for trains on a road trip by rail across the United States. We are first introduced to Evans, a cultural anthropologist of sorts who is interested in understanding why people travel by rail. Next, we meet Cross, a British photographer. Cross views locomotives as an art practice. His goal is to capture a perfect shot of a locomotive. Evans and Cross are our two main characters and it is through their lens that we explore the study of railways.
I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that the story unfolds almost exclusively from Evans and Cross’s vantage point. The best moments of this documentary were when Evans was having conversations with other passengers learning about their life stories, capturing their portraits, and uncovering what led them to travel by rail. Unfortunately, these moments are too brief and concerned in explaining Evans’ motivations for capturing these stories. Evans wants to capture these stories because he understands that travel by train is the rediscovery of a communal environment. This is a very compelling motivation but there is no follow-through since we spend so little time with the passengers Evans tried to record. Evans’ motivations were compelling; he was equally fascinated by trains and the people that traveled within them. Cross’ motivations were a little murkier as he appeared to be more interested in photographing locomotives as an art form. He claimed that capturing the perfect image of a locomotive was about anticipation and stillness.
Overall this was an interesting film that is limited by its diminutive runtime. Its almost exclusive focus on Evans and Cross undercuts what could have been a really compelling film about train travel. Even with these limitations, I’d still recommend you give “Ferroequinology” a shot. The black and white imagery alone will transport you to a different time and you will briefly encounter some colorful characters along the way.