In RaMell Ross’s debut film Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Ross uses an an unconventional form to create a more participatory film than a typical documentary. The film is certainly a documentary; however, it lacks much of the narrative structure many documentaries utilize to “hook” their audiences, feeling surreal and whimsical as a result. The form of the film consists of alternating clips set during the day and night, hence the title of the film, and several other patterns of non-narrative clips. The film is largely iterative, exploring the lives of two young Black men in Hale County and their families and friends. Quincey and Daniel’s lives in the film don’t replicate dramatic story arcs; while there were some emotionally charged scenes in the film, they aren’t presented as climactic moments, but as everyday occurrences. In addition to the stories of Daniel and Quincey, the film intercuts many timelapses of sunsets, sunrises, and the starry night sky in order to emphasize the passing of time. Ross also intersperses narratively significant scenes with clips of repetitive actions: popcorn popping, a bee rolling around in circles, a deer swaying in the headlights, in order to emphasize the continual nature of life in Hale County.
The result of all of Ross’s artistic choices regarding the form is an intimate, engaging relationship formed with the subjects of the film. Their stories are not dramatized, and the passing of time feels natural, yet through seemingly insignificant anecdotes and moments the audience gets a sense of the cyclical nature of poverty and disheartenment that the citizens of Hale County endure. The film invites its audience to participate in the lives of its subjects, rather than passively consume a triumphant narrative.