“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
Ross never planned on being a filmmaker. His CV includes stints as an injury-prone Georgetown shooting guard, an employee for the U.S. State Department and a nonprofit in Northern Ireland, and an acclaimed photographer. Then he moved to Hale County, Ala.
“I had an opportunity to teach a photography course for just two weeks, and kind of fell in love with the place,” Ross says. “I decided to stay. One, because it was cheap. Two, because I’d have time to think about life without the burden of the hustle.”
In Hale County, Ross started taking photos with a large-format camera, “to be in dialogue with guys like Walker Evans and William Christenberry,” then began shooting a film in 2012.
Rapturously received at Sundance, where it won a Special Jury Award for Creative Vision, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” fashions an intimate, fragmented portrait of a predominantly black and poor community, placing an emphasis on experience rather than struggle. With cinematography that seeks out accidental, spontaneous reverie and an intricate sound collage, “Hale County” ignores narrative drive in favor of interstitial beauty.
It’s a nonlinear work, but for Ross, its status as a documentary is crucial. “To make an art piece, or an installation film, is to place the way of looking and the form itself in a radically subjective, almost fiction, surrealist place. If you can use the documentary genre’s currency of truth, then people step into the world that you’re creating and think: this is something that exists in the world.”
Ross now spends half the year in Alabama — when not in Providence, R.I., teaching photography at Brown University — and plans to concentrate his upcoming work there, “using Hale County as a microcosm for the larger South.”
— Akiva Gottlieb