My contribution to Reverse Shot’s “Best of 2018” list, first published on January 5, 2019.
10. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Selecting the best films of the year is often a laborious exercise of recollection and reassessment, but some movies need no revisiting—their placement on the list is ensured by the lingering power of their images. One of these images I’ve carried with me all year: sweat, dripping from a young man onto the floor during basketball practice, which transitions (via a seamless cut) into thick raindrops hitting the sidewalk. In Hale County This Morning, This Evening, RaMell Ross strings together such moments, drawn from the lives of the Black residents of Hale County, Alabama, into something of an ethereal anti-portrait. “Photographing in my day-to-day, I began filming, using time to figure out how we’ve come to be seen,” reads the first of the many intertitles that clarify the political vocation of the film’s poetry. “How do we not frame someone?,” asks another. Hale County both answers and exceeds that question. Echoing Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Senegal-shot Reassemblage (1982), Ross eschews the totalizing tendencies of linear narrative. Instead, his oblique formalism anchors us to the granular beauty of each moment: the simple joy of a toddler running back-and-forth in a cramped home; the glistening, red-lit face of a Black teen as he talks about his aspirations; the surrealism of the countryside captured in time-lapse. In doing so, Ross upends the colonialist impulse of visual ethnography: his camera does not objectify the people and places within his frame, but rather gets us to question the ways in which we see and (claim to) know them.