Thursday, December 27, 2018

Movie with Abe: Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Directed by RaMell Ross
Released September 14, 2018

When the slate is listed for film festivals, the titles are usually divided into two main categories: documentary or narrative. That difference is meant to distinguish between nonfiction and fiction filmmaking, though it also implies, to a degree, the existence of a script to structure the latter, whereas the former may be composed of interviews and other footage edited together to create a coherent examination of its subject matter. While experimental filmmaking is found most commonly in narratives, it’s also possible to assemble a documentary from a series of shots or ideas into something that represents a facet of society.

This film is centered in Hale County, Alabama, looking at the lives of its black community. Individuals such as Daniel and Quincy are frequently shown but not fully introduced, captured during their daily lives as if there was no camera present. Director RaMell Ross proudly presents images constructed together to showcase the way in which black people in America are often misrepresented and have their culture portrayed, turning any previous conceptions on their head by presenting events expressly as they are, with his only commentary being the way in which he assembles the footage he has subtly taken to show what he sees as representative of the real black American community.

Those expecting any sort of conclusions to be concretely drawn or arguments to be made in an explicit way will be disappointed in this film, which puts its content out in the world to be taken as is. That style has the potential to be enlightening, but it also leaves much to be assembled and analyzed by the audience, which will delight some and frustrate others. In rare cases, Ross does juxtapose classic film footage of a man in blackface peering out of the bushes with shots of driving onto a plantation in the present day, but that’s among the most direct influence he lets seep into the film.

There is an intentionality to the randomness on display here, which often follows a child running around for a few minutes or ends up being just shadows on the wall. Those who prefer hard-hitting investigative documentaries that clearly posit what they aim to argue will find the experience of watching this film unfulfilling, with an added involvement and engagement with the material needed to truly internalize its message. It does have considerable value, but its deliberate lack of construction isn’t nearly as formidable an asset as framing it even slightly might have been.


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