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Crystal bridges

An exciting new filmmaker returns home

Edgecombe director Crystal Kayiza

Andrea Guitierrez

An emerging filmmaking voice out of Brooklyn got her start in Jenks, Oklahoma. And now she’s back.

Crystal Kayiza, director of the documentary short Edgecombe which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and now opens the 2019 Circle Cinema Film Festival, won her first award (an Emmy) as a Jenks High School student in 2012 for a film she produced in Clifton Raphael’s filmmaking class.

Now a graduate of Ithaca College, Kayiza follows her time at the ACLU (where she worked with attorneys on poverty law) with a return to her passion: filmmaking. She brings that spirit of social justice to Edgecombe, which tells the stories of three African American residents in North Carolina. Through them, Kayiza examines the ways that trauma repeats and re-invents itself in rural black communities.

“My film started with the support of the Jacob Burns Film Center where I was a Woman Filmmaker Fellow in the Creative Culture program,” Kayiza said. “It was a very supportive space with mentorship and collaboration with other emerging filmmakers.”

Sundance Ignite, the Sundance Film Institute’s program for next-gen filmmakers, offered more of a sense of community. “Screening at Sundance was a great experience,” Kayiza said. “It was wonderful to have Edgecombe in conversation with such incredible work.”

But it was her time in Jenks that laid the foundation, thanks to the school’s willingness to invest in film studies. “Being a part of Mr. Raphael’s class taught me how to be a storyteller first and foremost,” Kayiza said. “It was great to have my identity as a filmmaker cultivated in that space. Film was the medium, but the education was focused on creating better storytellers. That background is vital in my work now. Having that as the core of my craft informs all of my decision making.”

And now, after garnering festival acclaim and media coverage including a profile in Teen Vogue, Edgecombe has brought Kayiza, well, full circle. “I spent a lot of time at Circle as a high school student, so it’s such an honor to be able to screen there,” Kayiza said. She finds it a fitting place to present and discuss what she’s been drawn to as a filmmaker. “Trauma and memory is something that I’ve been exploring in my work. Home is an important place to examine these things.”

Read more about the Circle Cinema Film Festival.

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