(Release Info London schedule; February 19th, 2019, Curzon Bloomsbury, London WC1N, The Brunswick, London, WC1N 1AW, 14:45 PM)
"Hale County This Morning, This Evening"
An inspired and intimate portrait of a place and it's people, "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" follows Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, two young 'African American' men from rural 'Hale County', Alabama, over the course of five years. Collins attends college in search of opportunity while Bryant becomes a father to an energetic son in an open-ended, poetic film that privileges the patiently observed interstices of their lives. The audience is invited to experience the mundane and monumental, birth and death, the quotidian and the sublime. These moments combine to communicate the region’s deep culture and provide glimpses of the complex ways 'The African American' community’s collective image is integrated into America’s visual imagination. It's a refreshingly direct approach to documentary that fills in the gaps between individual black male icons. The film allows the viewer an emotive impression of 'The Historic South', showing the consequences of the social construction of race, while simultaneously trumpeting the beauty of life and offering a testament to dreaming despite the odds.
Director RaMell Ross earned a 'BA' in both 'English' and 'Sociology' from 'Georgetown University' and an 'MFA' from 'The Rhode Island School Of Design'. His photographs have been exhibited internationally and his writing has appeared in such outlets as 'The New York Times' and 'Walker Arts Center'. He was part of 'Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces Of Independent Film' in.2015, and a 'New Frontier Artist' in 'Residence' at 'The MIT Media Lab'. In 2016, he was a finalist for 'The Aperture Portfolio Prize', winner of an 'Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship Grant' and a 'Sundance Art Of Nonfiction Fellow'. In early 2017, he was selected for 'Rhode Island Foundation's Robert And Margaret MacColl Johnson Artist Fellowship'. RaMell is currently on faculty at 'Brown University’s Visual Arts Department'. While teaching in a 'GED' program in Greensboro, Alabama RaMell Ross met Quincy, and coaching basketball at the local high school he met Daniel. Filming start after about three years. "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" is his first feature documentary.
With a large format '8x10' inch camera, the view of Southern poverty was crystallized in the summer of 1936. The documentation of poor white sharecropping families became the landmark book 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men'. Two years later, 'The Farm Security Administration' commissioned the effects of 'The Great Depression' in the southern states. The photographic perspective established a new documentary aesthetic and defines a region. In the history of documentary practice, 'Hale County' is a mythical place. On the one hand it's part of the rarefied cannon of black and white photojournalism. The descriptive prose poetry and reflexive questioning of whether documentation can ever represent such social misery. Today, 'Hale County' is a different place. While the current residents subsist with comparable economic hardship, the racial demographics of the region have shifted. These forgotten, isolated, famous men in 'Hale County' are now people of color. Largely disenfranchised, 'The African American' population and communities subsist under conservative political structures determined to maintain a ritual of peaceful cohabitation an unequal distribution of and access to resources. The cycle of poverty in this region persists not only through mainstream political inaction, but also through the absence of progressive initiatives that deconstruct, intervene and disrupt this bogeyman region existing in the American consciousness.
The film avoids the tropes of traditional documentary to get at these issues while reacting to the historic, cultural imaging of 'African Americans', in pursuit to exalt the lives of Daniel and Quincy. The film is more than the sum of it's images. The entirety of impressions which constitute the film that take shape in our minds, are something else and more than the film itself. An idea which "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" invites us to experience in a free-form, impressionistic and at times almost surreal montage of cinematic snapshots from 'Hale County', Alabama. But also in a brilliantly edited, up-to date report from the heart of black America, which through it's images tells of racism in 'The USA' and about black self-perception right here, right now. It's not just about what we see, but also how. The film has a sharp eye for the beauty and significance of fleeting moments, but also for organising his images into a larger movement of forms and critical experiences. An artistically eminent and politically urgent intervention at the very right time; and with a cast of protagonists whose company we feel privileged to be in. "Hale County" investigates the return to home of a 'Northern Black American'. The film looks closely at vast stretches of Quincy and Daniel’s lives and to witness the ephemera of the human project; the latter in the context of 'The Historic South', the origin of 'Black American' aesthetics, and in that, the film strove toward engaging the visual complexity of being black.
The intentions is quite simple; to exalt Daniel and Quincy’s lives from our centrality, the looking out from 'The Black Community', in the documentary genre’s language of truth. Immediately the problem of agency and historical imaging emerged. You can not faithfully represent the lives of Daniel and Quincy without acknowledging the trouble of representation, that any viewer’s engagement with their lives without first confronting that influence of racism on our perception, is irresponsible. It's the trappings of representation that called for a responsive form; the use of an almost claustrophobic subjectivity and associative editing techniques to give the film a double consciousness. The historical imaging of 'African Americans' is a passive aggressive content of the film. It's important to understand the lives of Quincy, Daniel, and the people of 'Hale County' through glimpses rather than the conventions of a detailed narrative arc. When someone sees another person making a decision, they naturally judge the decision. But if you refuse the viewer that moment, removing judgment, they’re forced to consider a person and their life through other means, through the bigger picture, one that requires the filling in of blanks and active thought. This relieves a burden from the protagonist, perhaps the burden to succeed and/or make the right decision to earn compassion, or escape the odds. In this case, "Hale County" avoids the convention of narrative in order to highlight the greater forces at work in the lives depicted.
The music in the film is used to initiate a spry, fleeting experience in line with the film’s itinerary. "Hale County" takes inspiration from both the music and it's desired effect, as well as from forms of musical structure. You could say it’s composed by a series of movements. In that a series of images unite together to have a cumulative effect, a self-determined montage of sorts. The film calls them movements because of their musical relation, and they've a similar quality in that they cultivate a state of being. These movements organize the audience’s journey with the film, allow them to engage with a sense of progress yet encourage the visuals to function the way music does; for that moment of engagement, the pleasure of that single exchange. The global structure of the film is sun up-sun down, all images relating to each other by time of day. As the film is composed of almost completely single moments, the characters do not appear as much as they would normally, which not only increases the weight of that appearance but also makes the moments more susceptible to influence by what comes before it. Adhering to the form of the film while balancing the micro shifts of feeling and mood while balancing the clarity ambiguity, the story takes a collective brain. The film is in some ways itself an effort to answer that question. It's an attempt to create the reality, a reality of film as strategic inquiry, while representing the pre-existence of that world.
There are visual moments so intimate in this film that the look itself feels embodied to the point of a sense of participation or involvement. The camera isn’t there to point to a person or something and say to the audience; look at that, this is what's happening. It’s really the proximity to things that determines how much of them we understand. And so the film takes a radically subjective approach to bring people closer together. Cinema is still very young. "Hale County" offers the audience a cinematic experience of perspective and place. Shared experience brings people together and while those onscreen are the other participants, cinema acts as their medium of exchange. The film closes the distance between people by inviting close looking, and in turn close feeling, and allows the audience the feeling of witnessing something, linking wonder and awe to the encounter with the protagonist. There's an element of cosmic and environmental wonder that enters the film. 'Popular American' culture’s relationship to time and memory is distorted. Days, months, years, when does one thing cease to influence another? The past doesn’t fade, it's absorbed into the present. In the same way we're all made of stars, we're all made of history. All of human history has happened under the same sun. It's important to bring the audience back to the origins of cinema’s early declarations of 'Blackness', in order to allow the audience to adjust their bearings, and consider the ways their encounters with media’s 'Blackness' determined their lived reality.