by: PRINDIE Senior Programmer ALEX KIM
Alex is a mathematics major at Princeton University, where he has also studied film theory and screenplay writing.
Edgecombe is a documentary divided into three vignettes. In each of these vignettes Crystal Kayiza presents us with a different resident of Edgecombe County: there is Shaka Jackson, a young father of two, who has been put under house arrest for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; Doris Stith, a woman who has returned to her hometown in order to help it; and William Joyner, who has touched the lives of many of Edgecombe County’s residents as a church deacon and Sunday school leader, but who remains deeply troubled by his having lived through Jim Crow.
We get to know these people in that order, one that feels less like ascending age as it does like a descent progressively deeper into history, from the present-day consequences of slavery and Jim Crow down into the memories of a man who has lived firsthand through the latter. This structure also gives the impression of a family portrait. While Jackson, Stith, and Joyner are not related, their stories are connected to each other in the larger stories of both Edgecombe County and of the United States, so that they feel like the intertwined stories of a son, a mother, and a grandfather, each rebounding off the others.
And through it all the cinematography is extraordinary. Every shot demonstrates a painter’s sense of composition and color. Near the beginning of Jackson’s section of the film, called “house,” we see individual drops of rain illuminated by car headlights, resembling sparks or shooting stars, at the same time that we hear Jackson describing the road-related incident that led to his current house arrest. Later, during Stith’s section, one shot has the camera actually pointed skyward and moving skyward, too, up towards a beautiful close-up of the leaves hanging from a tree. Before the shot can focus completely, though, the film cuts to an ominous extreme wide overhead shot of what appear to be cotton fields. You just don’t see cinematography like this very often. The closest comparison I can think of is to some of Emmanuel Lubezki’s shots in The Tree of Life.
Like in that film, the beautiful cinematography here in Edgecombe helps us to see it not just as a film about three individuals but also as being about something almost cosmic, or spiritual. What is that spiritual thing exactly? Personally, I think it’s a sense of being where you want to be, of being home. “Do not lose this land,” Stith explains her father told her as a child, referring to the farmland on which she grew up and which her parents owned. Home.