Movie Reviews

Review: FERROEQUINOLOGY (Slamdance Film Festival)

Posted: February 4, 2022 at 4:08 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Pulling into the station as the world is reopening and people are rushing to get back to normal, Alex Nevill’s leisurely documentary Ferroequinology could not be better timed. Translated literally as “the study of iron horses,” his film, streaming as part of Slamdance 2022, follows two wandering spirits as they set out on separate railroad photography projects.

Luminously filmed in black and white, the documentary touches on how railroads have shaped their craft as each uses their camera to explore themes of time, place, and permeance. Each artist, drawn by the nostalgic allure of trains and how they helped develop social classes, sets out on an individual journey of reflection and discovery that illustrates the ongoing economic and social impacts of riding the rails.

Looking to chronicle the journeys of passengers who often live under the radar, McNair Evans uses 15 Day rail passes to ride Amtrak trains from coast to coast as he explores the themes of place with journals and photographs. In Ferroequinology, the youthful photographer braves the pandemic to travel from San Francisco to Portland. Along the way, he hears the life stories of his fellow passengers as he takes their portraits. For Evans, Amtrak’s desolate passenger cars take on an otherworldly presence as time loses its grasp on urgency, allowing passengers to use the slow pace of travel as a way to decompress, unwind, and reflect.

Acting as a tortoise to Evans hare, Andrew Cook takes a different approach. Slower in pace, he specializes in a more solitary and panoramic aspect of rail photography. A passionate lover of trains since the age of ten, Cross chases freight trains through the Black Rock desert in Nevada in pursuit of the perfect landscape. Exploring train stations, yards, and the geography of railroad tracks, Cross captures a frontier of isolation and still moments in time.

On camera, the affable Cross spends a lot of time waiting for trains to arrive. Despite unexpected delays and hot weather, he loves the experience of waiting. For him, there is value in not knowing what to expect.

Throughout Ferroequinology space, and time meet as portraits of people and places that resonate with our desires for connection and stability. Shattering preconceptions that train enthusiasts as odd hobbyists, his film is a soothing and casual voyage that covers as much ground as the trains do. 

In addition to exploring the methodology of Evans and Cross, he digs beneath their artistic textures to reveal how their attachment to trains inspires and motivates them. The result is a compelling study of how railroad photography depicts slow motion in an increasingly fast-paced society, allowing passengers to savor the experience.

Ferroequinology screens virtually at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival through February 6th. For more information visit