Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Non-fiction filmmaking as lyric poetry, RaMell Ross’s feature is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and will demand frequent revisits. In 2009, Ross began working in Hale County, Alabama, to teach photography and coach basketball. His film follows two subjects, an aspiring professional basketballer, Daniel, and a catfish factory worker, Quincy, a young father with twins on the way. The people of the film perform for the camera, of course, but this is all part of the equation, and Ross marshals the subjects into his artistic scheme. “So, you just take pictures?”, one passerby enquires of him. He’s not a local, and the trust he’s won seems genuine, but there’s an interesting distance between the typical engendering of confidence for a documentarian and the specifics of Ross’s formal vision. These images are special. They excite all the adjectives expected of such a project, and they are “beautiful,” “lyrical” sights, but the intelligence with which they’re composed and created outstrips such commonplaces. The earliest indication that Ross is onto something otherworldly is a match between a shot of a basketballer’s sweat drops accumulating on the ground and the stains of a rainfall, both rejuvenating. In between the matter of the subjects’ lives—the family’s growing up, cultural commentary, intertitles, constant hard work, joking, the congregations, and bereavements—there’s  another all-timer. Rubber tyres set alight in a pile; the sunlight gleaming through a tree’s branches; and then through the twisting, thick grey-dark of the smoke, the light pulsating. Image-making, a catalogue of experience: and still everything more.

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