RaMell Ross’ documentary HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (2018) previewed at ICA last night followed by a conversation between the filmmaker & ICA Assistant Curator, Ifeanyi Awachie (04 DEC 2018). Here’s our RADIANT CIRCUS writeup.

Radiant Circus - Screen Diary - Film Review: HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (2018).


dir. RaMell Ross (USA, 2018).

It’s a film you really need to relax and chill and watch, and not be like ‘ooh, what’s happening?’”*

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING gently unfolds like a lyrical sequence of Live Photo** moments from a five year immersion in community. It captures the everyday existence of a place filmmaker RaMell Ross lives in and knows well, Greensboro, Alabama. Along the way, it offers a powerful corrective to much of the way black people are seen on film, baptising audiences in what Ross calls “the black banal” where “the majority of life is a non-event”. Throughout, the camera stays close to friends and subjects as they wonder in and out of focus. Sometimes Ross’s gaze is held by landscape and child’s play, elsewhere he’s absorbed by the patina of sweat and baby dribble on black skin.

Intimacy, trust and even over-familiarity – a title card tells us “Boozie, now pregnant with twins, careth not for the film”… – allows Ross to linger long after a more formal shoot would have abandoned hope (“The film is a gamble of ‘maybe’”). One sequence – drawn from an entire basketball match, the camera positioned behind one of the subjects sat on the players’ benches – waits for the beautiful moment that eventually arrives; Daniel doing the victory dance one more time.

There is drama here – plenty of it – but instead of being commodified into a narrative of struggle and survival for our spurious entertainment, Ross and his collaborators award the people of Hale County the quiet dignity of the everyday. Which means that we feel their lives far more profoundly than any more sculpted version of similar events, as if we are experiencing them ourselves. Of course, there is no voiceover, no consistent score. Our only anchors are the occasional title cards that remain in dialogue with what’s on screen, like Post-Its stuck to an early edit.

Radiant Circus Screen Guide - Films in London today: HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING at ICA (04 DEC).

When you film your parents or you film your kids, you’re looking to match something that you know, match some sort of love that you have.

In discussion after the screening, Ross handled a wide-ranging clutch of questions from the ICA and audience. One asked about the relative absence of now ubiquitous tech on screen (phones, tablets etc.): was his camera the most potent bit of kit in the room? It turns out this was more about editing choices and audience perception, but Ross acknowledges there is a structural resistance to change in the Historic South: “Outside of that PlayStation and TV it looks like it could be 1960”.

Another questioner went in deep about the impact on communities that continue to live in the lands of their oppression. “Damn… that is THE question, you know?” Ross reflects, before considering how such histories can “plague a people”, desensitising them to the point where they are no longer offended “driving by a cotton field, or a Confederate flag”. Indeed, “none of the folks in Greensboro Alabama flinched when Trump was elected… no one cares….because it doesn’t change their life.” Throughout, Ross speaks of the “goals” inherent in his filmmaking, forever balancing form with function: “The South has never changed its clothes before… I’m interested in changing the clothes of the South.”

To use your camera to execute your vision, your personal poetic, takes a long time, you have to practise.

Ross rails against the filmmaking ethos of many who came up through the same production labs that nurtured his film, condemning “manipulative” attempts to turn up the emotion: “These are fucking fiction films, these are not documentaries!” Driven by his own high ambitions, he appears to be seeking to correct a fundamental flaw in human biology: what if “everyone could see the beauty of what you witness through your eyes”? What if, instead of only experiencing our world in the first person, we could activate a new, third person perspective? Ultimately, “the goal is to bring forth experience… whatever the hell experience actually is”. If the results are as consistently luminous, honest and heartfelt as HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING, consider RADIANT CIRCUS in line to be some of Human 2.0’s earliest adopters.

… and that’s the meat of it!

Radiant Circus - Screen Diary - Film Review: HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (2018).


*All quotes from RaMell Ross speaking at the ICA, London (04 DEC 2018).

**Other proprietary combination still & moving image technologies are available…

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