RaMell Ross' unconventional documentary delves into the life of a small Alabama community. Info
Perhaps Hale County This Morning, This Evening's most significant contribution to the landscape of current independent cinema is its devotion to the narratives of lesser cinematically represented communities in Alabama. In a film that shares the inquisitive, aching, roaming spirit of Britni West's Tired Moonlight (an undersung 2015 Wisconsin Film Festival highlight), teacher-turned-director RaMell Ross continually attempts to inspire conversation and opportunity simply through the steadiness of video documentation in this, his first feature.
As a glowing, impressionistic 76-minute tone poem and a send-off for this year's Spotlight Cinema series at MMoCA, 2018's Hale County most significantly transcends three-act structure and traditional documentary forms in its efforts to add idiosyncratic dimension and humanity to the struggles, both immediate and long-term, of a small Southern town. While the sentiment is sweeping and universal, Ross takes particular interest in Selma University student and aspiring basketball star Daniel Collins as well as young father Quincy Bryant, his girlfriend Boosie, and their toddler Kyrie.
Complemented by Ross' penchant for time-lapse photography, Hale County's scenes vary in length—from a few mere seconds that are woven into kinetic montages to stationary minutes of psychological reveal. Both a prevailing boisterousness and tragic gravity are overshadowed by recurring suggestions of institutional oppression and racial profiling embedded into the fabric of everyday life in America. In one sequence, Ross intriguingly builds upon this with an extended first-person POV tracking shot through a town's main artery that concludes with re-staged, re-contextualized silent film footage of a prowler that was once acceptably used to demonize black people. While Thai art house director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is strikingly credited as Ross' creative adviser, it's progressively evident this hybrid of documentary and narrative also takes critical influence from the likes of Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) as well as social activist-writer W.E.B. Du Bois. —Grant Phipps