Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Movie Review: Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Hale County This Morning, This Evening **** / *****
Directed by: RaMell Ross
Written by: RaMell Ross and Maya Krinsky.
Although the documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening runs only 76 minutes, it doesn’t come as any surprise to learn that director RaMell Ross spent five years filming it. You can tell in the way his subjects respond to the camera – and the person behind it – that are comfortable with it being there. This is a documentary without narration – and one that doesn’t really tell a story, not in a traditional sense anyway. It observes its subjects as it goes about their day-to-day lives. And yet, and this is crucial, I don’t think the camera acts as a passive observer – this isn’t a fly on the wall type film. The camera is an active participant in a way, because it gets in closer to the subjects that you often see in films like this, and the subjects often interact with or perform for the camera. They are used to it, but they do not ignore it.
The movie takes place in Hale County Alabama – and its subjects are all black. Daniel and Quincy – two high school basketball players – are the protagonists, if there is such a thing in a movie like this. Ross is a photographer by trade, and you can tell in the way he frames shots, and finds a lot of beauty in this place, sometimes fleetingly in the background, sometimes right up front. His major concern here is how black people are photographed – and how they are presented to the world, and how that presentation affects how they are viewed. Hale County This Morning, This Evening acts as a corrective in some ways – presenting us in another way in which to view blacks from the South.
The film often takes the past of this area seriously – it may be the past, and it may not be talked about often (at least in the film) – but it is not forgotten. The film is both a masterclass in cinematography and editing, which brings the past into conflict with the present at times. Shocking images of black face performers remind us of the not so distant past – and how black people are often presented. Contrast this to the way Ross films them. When you make a film, the gaze of the filmmaker is inevitable – but who does the gazing matters.
Overall, I find it difficult to write about a film like Hale County This Morning, This Evening. It’s not a film that you can dissect a lot of what happens in it – it isn’t a film like that. It’s about small, beautiful moments – and how they are presented. And you just need to see it for yourself in order to understand just what it’s doing – and what a great job its doing at it.

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