Alabama documentary up for an Oscar this weekend
Published 3:18 pm Thursday, February 21, 2019
Nearly 80 years after Walker Evans and James Agee shined a light on life in Hale County, Alabama, Greensboro and its environs are taking center stage again, this time in RaMell Ross’ Oscar-nominated documentary film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” follows Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, and their families, for five years. The documentary is done in an experimental, non-narrative style. Ross says it’s more about watching and being than listening and concluding.
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“It’s trying to show what it’s like to be a young black man in the historic South,” he said.
What you’ll see then is a whole lot of hanging out and large swaths of everyday life.
Ross’ unique mix of content plus form has been heralded as revolutionary and got attention early on from grant-funders and tony arts organizations like the Sundance Institute and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
“The reason why I didn’t make the film an installation or an art piece, why I turned it into a documentary, is because of the amount of people you can reach,” he said.
“The film is an experience. It’s supposed to be participated in. I wasn’t interested in telling you anything. I wasn’t interested in making anything clear, but allowing you to sort of fill in the gaps and to feel and to witness as much as possible.”
He ended up in Alabama after applying to teach a photo course via the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization (HERO). After completing two weeks of teaching, he fell in love with the community and made the move to Hale County. Since arriving in 2009, Ross helped build Pie Lab and managed the HERO youth program.
He also picked up a video camera and started filming.
And then there are the awards: Sundance Film Festival “Special Jury Prize Documentary,” Cinema Eye Honors “Outstanding Non-Fiction Feature Award,” Gotham Awards “Best Documentary” and, of course, the Academy Awards nomination for “Best Documentary Feature.”
The 2019 Academy Awards broadcasts on Sunday, Feb. 24.