HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING -Review by Diane Carson

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Hale County This Morning, This Evening follows two young African-American men in rural Alabama over nine years. Director RaMell Ross began shooting the documentary in 2009, focusing on the diverse experiences of Quincy Bryant and Daniel Collins, two African American young men. Following them over nine years, Ross immerses the viewer in these subjects’ rural Alabama lives. Following noted documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s style, no analytical commentary intrudes at any time.

In a quick 75 minutes, Daniel’s and Quincy’s personal worlds come alive—church, athletics, video games nose piercing, dancing, birth, a SIDS death—in other words, life. Ross began his documentary after he was hired to teach photography and coach basketball, and he revisits Daniel on the basketball court and practicing several times. Strikingly, the camera perches on the subjects’ shoulders or sits in a living room with their family and friends. In other scenes, arresting, unusual angles, and a disjunction between image and sound verge into the surreal: shadows on the gym wall for basketball drills at Selma University, a police car reflected in a rearview mirror, a shot of stars, the camera looking from the ground up through a tattered basketball net.

Adding another layer, the periodic insertion of brief glimpses of nature grounds the film in its environment, and a few quick shots from Bert Williams’ 1913 film Lime Kiln Field Day adds more context. This celebrated African-American actor spies though bushes on a plantation home, that luxurious house and cotton crops made profitable by black slaves. Through this complex portraiture, never forcing a theme or issue, Ross invites our own thoughtful reflection and self-awareness: what dreams do Daniel and Quincy pursue. What is, as a title on screen asks, in their orbit?

Flowing through profound, revealing episodes, both dramatic and commonplace, this unusual documentary, almost inexplicably, burrows deep into this world. “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” stands out for its honest, insightful moments that speak volumes.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.