Hale County This Morning, This Evening
RaMell Ross, director, cinematographer, writer
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, creative consultant
Feature documentary w/Quincy Bryant, Boosie, Daniel Collins
The winner of the Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Festival and the Grand Prize, International Feature Film, at the Montreal International Documentary Festival, Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a bold and innovative film and certainly one of the finest artistic docs of recent years. The first feature by RaMell Ross, an award-winning photographer and Brown University professor, explores what it’s like to be young, gifted and black in Hale County, Alabama today. Ross was a highly scouted basketball player as a teenager—injuries stopped his athletic career—so it was easy for him to gravitate to two young basketball players, Daniel and Quincy, and follow their lives. Neither player is going to be a star but this film isn’t intended to be another Hoop Dreams. It’s a poetic journey into the world of young African-Americans leading difficult lives in a racist, segregated state.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a deeply observational film, immersed in the day to day life of the people in an impoverished rural area in the American South. Ross’ style is to find a unique spot to shoot and then hold onto the shot for a truly long take. In one, Quincy and Boosie’s older son starts running back and forth from one end of the room to the other, with Ross placed towards the near wall, emphasizing the distance the lad must cover. At first, you feel the exuberance of the boy but the take continues for such a long time that you begin to experience his boredom and lack of options for meaningful play. In the next shot, also held for an improbably long time, Ross’ camera records Quincy and Daniel and their friends hanging out in a locker room, waiting for something to happen. Life doesn’t change much from being a boy to a young man.
Although some things do happen in the film including one tragic event, the appeal of Hale County is in Ross’ ability to capture the details of life in contemporary Alabama. The people Ross record have the love of their games and families but they are stuck in a no-win situation. It’s no surprise that Ross picked Hale County to document in his film. It’s the place where the acclaimed photographer Walker Evans and the poetic essayist James Agee documented the poverty of white rural families during the Great Depression in their masterpiece Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Black Alabamans really don’t appear in Evans and Agee’s book and whites aren’t included in Ross’ film. Together, these two great works may finally give us a true idea of what life is like in the rural South.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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