Photo Credit: Democracy Now
Two weeks before he was assassinated 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spent the night in Hale County, Alabama, in the heart of the Black Belt of Alabama. He came to Greensboro on Mar 21, 1968, in an bid to convene support for his Poor People’s Campaign. Supporters of King had to censor him in a tiny wooden residence on the hinterland of Greensboro as members of the Ku Klux Klan tried to hunt him down. It would be the last time King was in Hale County, Alabama. Two weeks later, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The protected residence where King stayed is now a museum. Now Hale County is the theme of a new documentary: “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” The film just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and looks at life in the primarily African-American county, which is named after a Confederate general. In the film, executive RaMell Ross paints an impressionistic mural of life in the Black Belt in the 21st century. We pronounce with executive RaMell Ross and author Joslyn Barnes.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from the Sundance Film Festival. Two weeks before he was assassinated 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent the night in Hale County, Alabama, in the heart of the Black Belt of Alabama. He came to Greensboro Mar 21st, 1968, in an bid to convene support for his Poor People’s Campaign. Supporters of King had to censor him in a tiny wooden residence on the hinterland of Greensboro as members of the Ku Klux Klan tried to hunt him down. It would be the last time King was in Hale County, Alabama. Two weeks later, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The protected residence where King stayed is now a museum.
Well, Hale County is the theme of a new documentary here at Sundance Film Festival. It’s titled Hale County This Morning, This Evening. The documentary looks at life in the primarily African-American county, which is named after a Confederate general. In the film, executive RaMell Ross paints an impressionistic mural of life in the Black Belt in the 21st century.
RaMell Ross joins us here in Park City, along with the film’s producer, Joslyn Barnes, who’s the co-founder of Louverture Films.
Your film is not about Dr. King 50 years ago. It is about people currently who live there. People have described you as “the Walker Evans of currently plus.” we mean—and, in fact, you started as a photographer. Talk about this rarely surprising film, both in form and content.
RAMELL ROSS: Well, the film comes out of a arrange of enterprise to centralize the African-American gaze. we came to Hale County arrange of casually and really began to demeanour back at my life as an African American in the U.S., and arrange of accepted the South as the unpractical home for the African American, and, arrange of by that review process, was using photography to arrange of illustrate or examine or try the way in which my notice was gracing the landscape. And so, we met two smashing fellows, Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, and began filming their lives at some point, and, again, used the camera to really look, to really, really look, for a really prolonged time, and see what unfolds by this routine of staring. And, you know, it arrange of—the film, in some ways, puts onward a idea of giving attention, visible attention, outward of normal means to the African-American community.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what you meant and how you done the transition from photography to film.
RAMELL ROSS: So, we was making large-format images, which is four-by-five camera, arrange of in the tradition of Walker Evans and William Christenberry, some of those other guys. And it’s a really delayed process, where you’re looking in a belligerent glass, and you have like a little piece over your head, and you’re like really staring and trying to work the concentration out. And in looking that way, for such a prolonged time and with such detail, in some ways, what happens in front of you starts to arrange of disintegrate, in nontraditional means. And we like to use the instance of when you demeanour at a word and the letters arrange of, you know, disassociate. And you have—you’re like, “What am we looking at?” People don’t do that when they demeanour at people. They don’t concede the social construction of, you know, the enlightenment or their race or whatever to arrange of mangle apart, and privately not to the African-American community. And so, the camera, as it’s time-based, allows you to spend the time looking in that way. And it’s extraordinary what unfolds or what arrange of emerges from that process.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, as you speak about Walker Evans, looking at a review—and the reviews have been soap-box for Hale County_. From the Hollywood Reporter, they write that “photographer Walker Evans and author James Agee composed Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, their famed text-and-image study of Great Depression-afflicted sharecroppers” in Hale County. But there’s “not a singular close-up of an African-American face in any of Evans’ photos.” You spin that on its head. You give us a very opposite picture.
Joslyn Barnes, you constructed this film. Why was RaMell’s work so surprising for you, that you wanted to be a partial of this project?
JOSLYN BARNES: I just wish to clarify: we constructed a film with RaMell and also with Su Kim, another producer.
I think—you know, we consider of documentary as an encounter. And one of the many surprising elements of this film is not only the centrality of the African-American perspective, but a totally new imaging of African Americans. It really takes detached the historical—it brings the chronological to bear on it, but it also takes it apart. And partial of this, the strategy was really in the modifying process. It’s the looking and the durational aspect of the looking that RaMell brought to this. It non-stop up a space of reflection, we think, for the spectator to enter and, you know, possibly make clarity of their own knowledge or actually come into something new. But the modifying settlement is associative, so he non-stop up interstitial space. And that is like—it works in a kind of neurological way, where you can follow the abbreviation of the film, but it also undermines the way that you have been conditioned to look. And it’s poetic, and it’s metaphorical. And that lets you dump your—some of your conditioned responses and see differently.
AMY GOODMAN: Some people may have focused on Alabama, outward Alabama, for the first time with the special election of passionate predator Roy Moore, who just hardly lost to the Democrat. But you give us a picture of bland life in Alabama. Talk about storytelling in a time of Trump, RaMell. We just have reduction than a minute.
RAMELL ROSS: Well, we think, you know, it’s not only the stories we tell. It’s how we tell the stories. And it’s also what is the element of the story, what is the arc of the story. And we consider in—I guess, in this time of Trump, a thing that we privately focused on is not focusing so much on those commencement to end, but all of those middles that are traditionally arrange of neutered in sequence to get to that end. It’s almost like corporate language, in which every word has some idea or some enlightening goal. But in that, privately in attribute to blackness, you revoke it to its finish goal, and therefore arrange of don’t concede the beauty of being, the beauty of the human, in the story, to be something incomparable than its arc or be something incomparable than the arena of whatever you’re trying to explain or whatever you’re trying to convey.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this, we hope, is just the commencement of the conversations. we wish to appreciate you so much. Congratulations on your film, RaMell Ross, director, cinematographer, editor, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, and Joslyn Barnes.
A very happy birthday to Charina Nadura!