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RaMell Ross is seeking 'visual justice' for 'Hale County'

Tre'vell Anderson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

A: I think my approach to filmmaking is burgeoning. The ideas from this film, the idea of the form of this film, is born from a sort of failure, in my opinion, for traditional documentaries to speak to the vastness of the black experience as it relates to (the idea) that we're made of stars. The gestures of interaction that get lost in the narrative or imagery that is intended to push forth some story can't just be the image of the person in the moment. The struggle narrative really got to me -- most of the stories about blackness, because of the past, obviously, have a very specific poverty struggle, beginning and end, and that forecloses greater understanding of just general humanity.

One of the core ideas of the film is if you don't show a person's decisions, then you can't judge their decisions. So in all the films, a person goes into the store, someone says something to them and the person snaps back to them. Then the person's like, "He shouldn't have said anything. He should've just kept going." Therefore, you're projecting the way you would be in the world or your global view on the film. You fail to see that the situation the person is put in is not the decision they're making. It's the bigger structure that is contributing to the way they're responding.

By fractioning Daniel and Quincy's narratives, concentrating only on the beautiful, spontaneous moments, you don't have a chance to judge them -- aside from the way in which you would judge a black person because they're black. Therefore, the way you respond to the film is you, it's not the film.

Q: The way I've described it is that the film just shows black Southern folk existing -- no obvious plot or narrative arc, though it is complexly layered.

A: There (are) a lot of intentional things that bring forth different ways that you can speak about the film. One core thing I wanted to do was elevate Daniel and Quincy's life to a space of awe, to elevate the Southern experience into a place of ephemeral beauty, to sort of remove it from the constraints of its past -- but then let you know that it was born in that, but it's not only that.

I'm easily moved, and I believe, philosophically, that everything in the world exists at every point in time, in every gesture, in every look, in every tick or in every car going by. Structured in the right way, you can bring out the beauty and the metaphor and create meaning. It takes a lot of time to be able to pull those things out. And that's another thing: People don't spend enough time with black subjects because of the economy system of media -- to make those things visible and, therefore, change the way that people see those things.

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Q: Is there a message you want people to take away?

A: No, (there is) 100 percent not a message. My whole thing is (about) experience. Knowledge is experience. ... My goal is to create an experience of the historic South, the experience of the centrality of the black experience, the experience of Quincy and Daniel's lives. Let that experience meet (the audience) where they are in their life and then hopefully change the trajectory of the way that they experience black people in the future. That's something that happens internally. It's something that happens cerebrally, and it's not something that is Anglocentric.

Q: Who or what inspires you?

A: Like I said, I'm really moved by everything. I can look at a person in the world and get tons of experience. But there are a couple of people's work whose form has really been inspiring. One was Allen Ginsberg's (poem) "Howl." It's robust and descriptive and just blossoming. I really love Godfrey Reggio's "Qatsi" (film) trilogy. One thing he said in an interview was -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that language can no longer speak to the complication of the human being in society and capitalism. It's just too big. The only way we can do that is through images. I was like, that's kind of true. Images hold so much more than language; (they're) so much more visceral.

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