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Hale County Documentary Up For An Oscar This Weekend

Caroline Vincent

Alabama is going to be featured at the Oscars for the second year in a row. Last year the psychological thriller “Get Out” won best original screenplay and this year a documentary filmed in Alabama is up for the golden statue. 

“It’s about the south, but it’s about Daniel and Quincy’s lives," says Ramell Ross. He's the director of the documentary "Hale County This Morning, This Evening." It follows the lives of two men in Hale County, Alabama. Ross says it's more than that...

Credit imdb.com
Filmmaker RaMell Ross

Ramell Ross is the director of the documentary "Hale County This Morning, This Evening." The film follows the lives of two men in Hale County Alabama.  Ross says its more than that…

“But it’s also about the black experience, and it’s also about cinema," he says. "So. It’s really just a mismatch of a whole lot of desires to make things really interesting.”

The documentary has won several awards already including “Best Documentary” at the Gotham Independent Film Awards. Ross says the different approach he took to making the film has caused people to take note…

“I like to say “para-narrative” and people are like “what’s that mean?” Ross Explains. "And I’m like it’s an alternative narrative that is not necessarily story based or its not structured the same but it still has the sort of narrative beginning to end but its more about the experience of a narrative as opposed to the telling of a narrative.”

Ross acted as a fly on the wall, recording his time with the subjects of his film and catching moments from their lives. That left him with a lot of footage to go through…

“We had thirteen hundred hours. If you have 400 hours for a documentary, you’re bordering insanity and so I’m not quite sure that you would call thirteen hundred hours but it’s definitely a lot,” says Ross

Ross gathered all of this over a period of a few years. However, making a movie isn’t what brought him to the west Alabama town of Greensboro…

“I initially came to teach a two week photography course and I stayed to work in a youth program that was helping kids get some career training and their GED and some workforce development," he says.

This is where he met the main subjects of the documentary he says just living in Greensboro and being around the people inspired him to make the film…

“Well I was living for three years in Greensboro Alabama and the place was so rich and the people were so wonderful and I was a little frustrated that I didn’t see representations that matched my experience in documentary or in cinema so I started filming with Daniel and Quincy.”

Credit RaMell Ross
"Quincy Bryant in "Hale County This Morning, This Evening."

Making a movie like this is much different than a studio film with large crews and big budgets.  Alabama is becoming a popular shooting destination for filmmakers and people in the state are taking notice.

“Film Industry is Alive and well and it is better than it has ever been," says Buddy Palmer with the Birmingham film office…

“Speaking for the Birmingham region alone in the past 3 years we have successfully recruited 20 feature films and 2019 is off to a better start than any of the three previous years with a minimum of three to four films taking place in the first quarter of the year," says Palmer.

And Birmingham isn’t the only place industry officials are looking. The Oscar nominated movie “Selma” filmed scenes in the historic city, Montgomery and Mobile are also seeing film crews more often. But smaller towns are catching people’s attention too. Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop is the economic and community development director for the city of Fairhope.  This is where many of the interior shots were filmed for the movie “Get Out” and another film is currently shooting in the town. She says this is an economic boost for the town…

“The whole crew and all of the actors are renting locally, staying in our hotels locally, purchasing their sets, all of their decorations locally," she says.

But that isn’t all…

“The impact goes well beyond what you might think," says Bloodworth Botop. "They needed children’s artwork, so they worked with local schools and our local eastern shore art center and the rotary youth club to have activities where children made art for the film.”

She says there was an effort in the state legislature last year to remove the state’s tax incentives for filmmakers coming to Alabama. She’s glad that did not happen and would actually like to see the incentives increased to keep crews coming in because it’s good for the state…

“The impact is not just what they spend now, but it’s also, it boosts tourism, it boosts visibility of our state. There are other cultural and potential job opportunities for people who live here," she says. "The economic boom and the art and cultural boom to it are other reasons I think it is important to keep promoting film in the state.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlOeSyl-zZk

Within the past five years, three films have been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an Oscar naming them the best in their category. “Selma” and “Get Out” were nominated for best picture and this year Ramell Ross’ “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” is up for best documentary. Buddy Palmer with the Birmingham film office says all of this helps Alabama…

“It’s really very important when you have a variety of projects and we’ll say in this instance, you have a feature film, a documentary, we’ve got some television work that receives that kind of attention," says Palmer. The translation is that Alabama is open for business and Alabama is a place where really quality projects can happen.”

Ross says his nomination for an Oscar came as a surprise… 

Credit RaMell Ross
"Daniel Collins in "Hale County This Morning, This Evening."

“I was kind of just in shock really, it was more “did we just get nominated for an Oscar?” Ross asked himself. "And what does that mean exactly, it’s such an astounding thing.”

Ross hopes his film will let people see the real Hale County and have a better understanding of the people there… 

“Specifically I hope it bring attention to the county itself the city of Greensboro the South that there are folks there who are amazing, productive and intelligent and would just love a little bit of love," he says.

Ross will know on Sunday if his five year effort will pay off.

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