Crystal Kayiza Feature on HuffPost "Culture & Arts"

First She Worked For The ACLU. Now She’s Making Documentaries About Blackness In America.

Crystal Kayiza’s short film “Edgecombe” just screened at Sundance.

By Matthew Jacobs
February 27, 2019

Dedicating a chapter of “Edgecombe” to Joyner christens Kayiza a promising new talent, someone with an eye for affecting stories. To watch the movie, which screened at last month’s Sundance Film Festival after being shown at festivals in Brooklyn, New Orleans and elsewhere, is to wonder where its 25-year-old director has been and where she is going. Her stylistic instincts ― using a dreamlike haze to capture a reality wherein the passage of time feels like a reverie ― are that good.

She got the idea to profile Edgecombe County when she was leaving the ACLU, where she worked as a legal assistant for two years after graduating from the film program at Ithaca College in 2015. Her stint with the ACLU concerned racial justice issues in the American South. Itching to return to her documentary-filmmaking ambitions, she asked an attorney she met from North Carolina to recommend a compelling region that would mirror her ACLU efforts. Tarboro, home to cotton plantations in the slave days, is a majority-black town; according to the Census Bureau, its median family income is just over $33,500. 

“I wanted a more artistic or poetic exploration of blackness and what the African diaspora looks like in the United States,” Kayiza said at a Brooklyn coffee shop two weeks before going to Sundance. “I learned a lot by being in the legal and policy worlds, but I think there’s only so many ways to tell stories in that space.”

Caryn Coleman