Hale County This Morning, This Evening

A tone poem about the way a certain place feels at certain times.

That RaMell Ross’ documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening is being released so soon after Frederick Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana is a lovely coincidence. Both are stream-of-consciousness studies of economically depressed rural communities, but Ross’ 76-minute film feels fresh and vibrant in all the ways Wiseman’s 143-minute effort did not — and not just because of the disparity in running times nor because Ross’s subjects are Black.

Although there are families the film regularly checks in on, the impressionistic, often visually stunning Hale is more about the county’s textures and atmospheres, a standout being an unbroken, 80-second shot of setting sunlight from behind a tree piercing the smoke from a tire fire. Ross leaves in the production audio as a local asks him what he’s doing, and the sequence is haunted by footage of Black vaudeville star Bert Williams from a 1913 film that required him to wear blackface, because that’s what America was like when it was great. Rather than imposing a strict narrative, the occasional intertitles often read like poetry-writing prompts, such as “What is the Orbit of Our Dreaming?” or “Where Does Time Reside?” And in the context of Hale County, “Korbyn Was Buried in the Early Afternoon” gives “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” a run for its money in terms of wallops packed.

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.

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