“Creating work that makes observations about race—specifically blackness—is what’s important to me. That is my starting point,” filmmaker RaMell Ross MFA 14 PH told The Atlantic in 2019.
This year Ross is being recognized with a $50,000 United States Artists fellowship, an unrestricted grant that celebrates “artists and cultural practitioners who have significantly contributed to the creative landscape and arts ecosystem of the country.” Based in Providence, where he teaches at Brown University, Ross is one of three filmmakers of color to earn USA funding in 2020.
Describing himself as a “liberated documentarian,” Ross is best known for his groundbreaking film Hale County This Morning, This Evening, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2019 and attracted a flurry of media coverage—everywhere from The New York Times to ArtForum to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. The poetic meditation on everyday life for black families in Alabama also earned other recognition—including a Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
Ross’ more recent film Easter Snap premiered at Sundance in 2019 and took the Gold Hugo Prize for best documentary short at the Chicago International Film Festival.
In addition to focusing on moving images, the filmmaker continues to explore photography, sculpture and other mediums. This spring he’s preparing for a solo exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Arts in New Orleans and is thinking about possibilities for creating a narrative-driven feature film that is less experimental than Hale County.
Inspired by such literary greats as William Faulkner and JD Salinger, Ross credits James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men for sparking the breakthrough that helped him knit together the images of Hale County to create a cohesive viewing experience.
“I had a lot of footage and was trying to connect disparate things,” he explains. “Agee describes things in terms of light, mood, movement. I really love looking at the light… and [used it to] connect moments that were months apart but had a similar feel because of the light.”
—Simone Solondz / portrait by Winnie Gier