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Filmmaker RaMell Ross on the black experience in documentary film

The documentary “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” about a community in the Alabama Black Belt, received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary earlier this year. RaMell Ross spent more than five years making the film, exploring the South as a black American from the North. He offers his brief but spectacular take on the black experience in documentary film.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The documentary "Hale County This Morning, This Evening," about a community in the Alabama Black Belt, was nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year for best documentary feature.

    Filmmaker RaMell Ross, who spent more than five years making the film, gives his Brief But Spectacular take on the black experience in documentary film.

    It's also part of our of arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Ramell Ross:

    We look at black folks. We don't often look from black folks. And the reason why that's the case is because the sort of world view of the U.S. is the white gaze.

    And so blackness is the other. You go into a black community. You don't leave a black community.

    I live in Hale County currently, been there for 10 years. I moved there to teach photography and then eventually ran a youth program.

    And eight years living there, people still knew me as the one who could help someone write a resume or help someone get into college. That role gave me more leeway, and allowed for people to trust me by default, before I intended or thought about making a film.

    I talk about the film as a return to home for a Northern black American to the historic South looking through my eyes. I'm encountering the moment in the same way in which you encounter the moment.

    I'm waiting and watching and participating, in hopes that something magnificent would unfold in front of the camera in a beautiful frame.

    When I'm filming Quincy, and we walk outside, and literally a storm is born on the horizon, I'm in the same shock and awe and appreciation for the moment viscerally as you are when you encounter it on screen.

    Making the film was the most profound five years I have ever had. No one has access to the nuclear family, the living room environment over the course of many years in someone's family.

    This is where the myths are made. This is where you learn how to love. And I was able to witness that in Daniel and Quincy's lives.

    If we weren't stuck in our first-person points of view, I would argue that most problems in the world that have to do with inequality would be solved, because we wouldn't be stuck in our single points of views.

    My name is RaMell Ross, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on the centrality of the black experience in documentary film.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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