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Few filmmakers build on the intimacy of the gaze like RaMell Ross, who is part of the new wave of artists working with the documentary form to reveal the inner logic of relationships through careful observation and aesthetic innovation. It’s for this reason that his 2018 film Hale County This Morning, This Evening was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Ross’s new short, Easter Snap, presented by Field of Vision, journeys to the Deep South, where we meet Johnny Blackmon, who is helping to resurrect the homestead ritual of hog processing.
The film begins with a large pig wrapped in a distinctively American blanket, as a team of five men prepare the animal with careful consideration. Ross’s ability to frame each scene with precision and win the trust of his subjects is one of his extraordinary talents. The camera never quite disappears, as we’re made conscious of its presence, power, and the limits of its lens, but neither is Ross detached; he places down the camera to react when one of the men ends up on his back. Such humanity is central to so much of Ross’s work, never pushing away from his subjects, but instead continually inching closer, like a long conversation with a good friend. He never reduces his scenes to just the image, making us aware of what we cannot see, but rather impregnates them with symbolism that seems to open them up to wider issues.
The five men never address the camera, but we feel embraced within their circle and part of this ritual, which connects them to the history of a place we may never see more closely than here.