November 1, 2019

Radical Nonfiction Film Series: Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Easter Snap by RaMell Ross, presented by Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts

Conversation with Ross and series curator Robert Greene following the films

On Thursday, November 7, the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts at Princeton University concludes the fall film series, Radical Nonfiction: Fantasy, Observation and Elasticity in the Documentary Film, with a screening of  two films by Oscar-nominated filmmaker RaMell Ross. The screening begins at 7:00 p.m. in the James Stewart Film Theater and will be followed by an extended conversation with Ross and series organizer and filmmaker Robert Greene. The event is free and open to the public.

man with collared shirt serious expression

Filmmaker RaMell Ross. Photo by Maya Krinsky/courtesy of Sundance Institute

The series has been put together by Greene to take the current pulse of the ever-changing documentary film form. He notes, “Documentary film is full of contradictions; the staged meets the observed, intervention meets the authentic. Documentary film uses observation to show us the world we inhabit, but nonfiction images are also records of the fantasies of both filmmakers and subjects. What we believe, how we subjectively formulate our experiences — the fantasy of our own realities— can be captured and magnified by the camera and how we edit images together. This is documentary: an elastic, ever-changing attempt at working with the world as it is and as we hope it be.”

RaMell Ross is an artist, filmmaker and writer based in Rhode Island and Alabama. His feature documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening, one of his films to be screened, won a Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, was nominated for an Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards, and has screened at the Museum of Modern Art. Ross’ Sundance short film Easter Snap (2019) will also be screened. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Aperture, Harper’s Magazine, TIME, Oxford American, and at Walker Arts Center. He is a recipient of an Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship and a Rhode Island Foundation MacColl Johnson artist fellowship. Ross recently had a solo exhibition at Aperture Gallery in New York City. He double-majored in English and Sociology at Georgetown University and teaches in Brown University’s Visual Art Department. Images from South County, Alabama, and new work will be displayed in a solo exhibition at the Ogden Museum in late 2020.

girl and mother holding light bulb and battery

A still from RaMell Ross’ film Hale County This Morning, This Evening. Photo courtesy of RaMell Ross

Greene notes that Hale County This Morning, This Evening, “may be the most radical film ever nominated for an Oscar.” The photographer/filmmaker’s subjective, conceptually rigorous portrait of a community of African Americans — some of whom were his students — in Hale County, Alabama, was made from 1300 hours of intensely personal footage and edited into a meditation on life, the performance of identity and the legacies-on-legacies of representation of black and brown people onscreen. “With such disparate influences as southern photography, Alan Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Qatsi’ trilogy,” notes Greene, “the film is a singular, remarkably moving vision that both revels in abstraction and depicts the rhythms of life as it is actually lived. With the unexpected success of Hale County, Ross has become one of the most important voices of a documentary film community trying to find new ways of communicating the experiences of the world.” 

Greene’s films include Bisbee ’17, which screened at Princeton on September 26, and Kate Plays Christine (2016), which won a Jury Award for Writing at Sundance. His documentaries include the Gotham Awards-nominated Actress (2014), Fake it so Real (2011), and the Gotham Awards-nominated Kati with an I (2010). Greene was an inaugural Sundance Art of Nonfiction fellow in 2015, is a three-time nominee for Best Director at the Cinema Eye Honors, and received the 2014 Vanguard Artist Award from the San Francisco DocFest. His first documentary, Owning the Weather (2009), was screened at the COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. He has been a Sundance Edit Lab Advisor and was on the U.S. Documentary Jury for Sundance 2017. He has edited over a dozen feature films and writes for outlets such as Sight & Sound and Indiewire, as well as serves as the Filmmaker-in-Chief for the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri.

The film series is supported through the John Sacret Young ’69 Lecture Series fund. Sacret Young is a 1969 graduate of Princeton and an author, producer, director, and screenwriter. He has been nominated for seven Emmy Awards and seven Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards, winning two WGA Awards.  He is perhaps best known for co-creating, along with William F. Broyles Jr., China Beach, the critically acclaimed ABC-TV drama series about medics and nurses during the Vietnam War, and for his work on the television drama The West Wing. Young has also received a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award, and his original mini-series about the Gulf War, Thanks of a Grateful Nation, was honored with his fifth Humanitas Prize nomination.

For more information on the Program in Visual Arts and the more than 100 performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts, most of them free, visit

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