This nonfiction documentary debut and U.S. Documentary Sundance Award winner by RaMell Ross is a minimalist doc about the lives of black people in Hale County, Alabama. Running just about an hour and a quarter, Ross picks a few people to focus his points on.
The film shows the limited opportunities available to the citizens of Hale. The film opens with the first subject who specializes in psychology and basketball. There are extended scenes with subjects practice basketball giving the film the feel of an art movie. It is for this reason that the film could have got the rave reviews but the capsuled film is lacking in many areas.
For one only the blacks are centred. Very little is heard or revealed on the white pollution – even whether they are a minority, as if they did not matter one bit. The film is pessimistic in outlook. Nothing is mentioned of the decrease in unemployment or the increase in voter turnout in the years following the film being made The film generalizes from just the few subjects chosen on camera.
There are two main subjects on show. The other is a black kid called Daniel. He is shown to be a kind of anti-social wild person that one would stay clear away from. The film attributes the cause to be his upbringing where his grandmother prevented his mother from raising him. Daniel is a very angry teen. Daniel blames his mother, who on camera confesses that it was not her fault. On one occasion, she tried to get her son back but with little success. The grandmother called the cops on her. This intimate section brings some life into the doc.
Having a background in photography, director Ross’s simple film is beautiful to look at, in a simple way, without glamour or special effects. This suits the mood of the lives of the simple Hale County citizens on display.
It is hard to fault small well-intentioned films like HALE COUNTY which aims low and needs little research, contains no whistleblowing and ruffles few feathers. It is easier to find faults with larger docs which have more chance of making errors. HALE COUNTY also provides no answers to the problems of poverty and racial image brought up. But the film offers a rare look at the African American in small towns in the black belt region of the U.S. instead of big or inner cities.
Narration is minimal and replaced by interwoven images, a few of which are long takes. One shows Daniel, all sweaty practicing basketball on his own. This is one long take of a practice that could have lasted hours.
HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING is a film the many have not heard of – then suddenly appears out of nowhere for a limited engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It is also thanks to Bell Lightbox that small films like this one have a chance at being seen.