Winner of the Jury Prize for Best US Short Film at this year’s Sundance, Rest Stop is a quiet study of motherly love and diasporic solidarity. The film’s intimate look at a Ugandan-American family suspended in transit while traveling from New York to Oklahoma emphasizes the strong bonds that form among immigrant families navigating new settings. Quiet and affecting, Crystal Kayiza’s fiction debut is a remarkable feat of personal filmmaking.
With a cast entirely made up of first-time actors and a focus on quotidian moments, Rest Stop resembles vérité nonfiction. Although Kayiza originally experienced “some initial anxiety about how [her] experience as a nonfiction director would apply to the scripted space,” her attention to how people talk to one another — in non-sequiturs, whispers and glances — lends her film a lifelike authenticity.
“Rest Stop is my first scripted film and having non-fiction filmmaking at the core of my approach allows me to think about how my work contributes to a personal or collective record. It’s important for me to have a piece of my community’s migration story in the public archive.” CRYSTAL KAYIZA
Kayiza began writing this film in early 2020, around the time she was “nearing the age [her] mother was when she came to the US.” In many ways, it reflects her own memory of being a child and realizing her mother was more than a caretaker, but somebody with her own struggles and ambitions. Her decision to frame the film from the perspective of Meyi, the mother’s second child, adds a coming-of-age dimension to Rest Stop. It was important for her “to ground this film in Meyi’s perspective” because it acknowledges “that even when a child cannot speak to the world around them, they see and hold everything.” The moment-to-moment quality of the edit evokes the feeling of remembering childhood memories, as though reconciling whatever dreamy fragments of the past linger in your brain years after they’ve happened. Rest Stop is imbued with this very quality: a hard-to-place realism that feels discernibly personal.
Brooklyn-based filmmaker Crystal Kayiza makes graceful studies of everyday people whose simple rituals betray their busy inner lives. In 2018, she was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Her short documentary Edgecombe was an official selection of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and distributed by pov. Her follow-up See You Next Time was also part of the official selection at Sundance the following year and distributed by The New Yorker. Kayiza is currently working on her first non-fiction film feature, which follows a group of elders who oversee one of the oldest cemeteries in Mississippi.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.
- Credits for
- REST STOP
- alicia basiima, leeanna e. tushabe, khalid semakula, amari noel, robert wanyama, margaret bisase & olivia nantongo
- produced by
- jalena keane-lee & brit fryer
- cinematography by
- kris kouke
- crystal kayiza & harry cepka
- robert ouyang rusli
- sound editing
- gisela fullà silvestre
- casting by
- kate antognini
- production design
- avigail gutfeld
- costume designer
- yety akinola
- samuel gursky