Monrovia, Indiana isn’t an expose into “Trump’s America.” No surprise, as that’s not usually Frederick Wiseman’s style anyway. In this two-and-a-half hour documentary, Wiseman sits as a fly on the wall to observe the everyday goings-on in Monrovia, a community about 20 minutes out from the 465 Loop around Indianapolis and about 15 minutes from the airport off I-70.
It seems appropriate to air Monrovia, Indiana at the Heartland Film Festival, where attendees may well be from Monrovia or at least familiar with its kind of town — farming and bedroom communities, suburbs that maintain a “rural” identity despite their proximity to larger metro areas and feature a mixture of actual agricultural business and commuters. Drive about 30 to 45 minutes (if even that long) out of Indianapolis in any direction and you’re in this world.
Wiseman tells stories without narration, interviews, etc. But he does tell a story. He’s focused on the conflict between old and new — citizens who want a rural lifestyle versus larger developments that bring change. One issue is Homestead, a property development that is relatively new, and the associated municipal problems that come along with it and the expansion it represents. It is not accurate to say Monrovia, Indiana is without a story or a narrative arc. It just lacks a distinct agenda.
We witness snippets of life in Monrovia interspersed with footage of farming equipment, the downtown stretch of older buildings, a water treatment plant, government debates and pictures of neighborhoods built in the 1970s and 1980s.
Life includes a Freemason ceremony, a Lions Club debate over a public bench, a wedding. Haircuts. Local restaurants. Conversations about physical therapy. A trip to the gun store. Nothing “sensational,” but beautifully shot and framed and never dull. The runtime might seem intimidating given the quiet approach to the material, but I found it riveting.