Director: RaMell Ross
Words – Rhiannon Topham
Distinctively intimate and poetic, the longitudinal not-a-narrative narrative of Hale County This Morning, This Evening replaces traditional storytelling with a more immersive kind of portraiture, as told through a sociological observant lens.
By fully engrossing himself in the Alabama community he comes to live and work in, photographer and filmmaker RaMell Ross reframes the perception of the everyday lives of African American men and encapsulates the quotidian values which hold this small collective together over the five years of filming.
The film primarily focuses on Daniel Collins, a young basketball player and student at Selma University, and Quincy Bryant, a new father and husband to Boosie, who gives birth to twins during the film. Shortly after, it is revealed that one of the twins dies of sudden infant death syndrome – an agonizingly acute scene befitting of the sharp sorrow of losing a child.
When saying Hale County has a no-narrative kind of narrative, it’s because it’s constructed as a string of short passages edited together or intercut with related images, particularly of the cosmic variety. Even the most profound moments last no more than a minute or two; an illustrative imitation of the fleeting nature of life.
Assembling footage in this way reflects the rich tapestry of events that occurred throughout the five years better than any structured filming schedule ever could, a prime example of a filmmaker fully understanding their subjects, respecting the complexities of their lives and balancing a simultaneous sense of distance and proximity when positioning themselves within it.
But it does mean that it can be difficult to follow. Perhaps that’s because we’ve become so used to the standard framework of a linear narrative; perhaps it’s because it’s five years worth of footage and intrapersonal relationships squeezed into a 76 minute film, broken up by cryptic question or a vague description of the situation about to be shown.
This can have quite a jarring effect, but as a nonfiction anthology comprised mostly of fly on the wall footage, Hale County presents a fairly comprehensive view of the reality experienced by a relatively underrepresented demographic in the Black Belt of the American South.