"Resting Places" is a documentary film
about roadside memorials and the controversy that surrounds
them. Narrated by Liam Neeson, "Resting Places" was
produced and directed by Melissa Villanueva, and written
by J. Michael Kipikash, who was also executive producer.
Director of photography was Joe Mandacina.
Roadside Memorials Be Banned?" -- nytimes.com "Room
For Debate" blog, July 12, 2009
Roadside memorials are erected to mark the passing of all kinds of people, but there is one kind of memorial that is particularly distinctive: memorials to a law enforcement officers who died on the road in the line of duty. Such memorials tend to pointedly note the occupation and jurisdiction of the deceased, with badge numbers and replicas and as well as name. They are also often larger and more permanent than other memorials. It is evident that they are felt by those who put them up to be in a class by themselves, and to be particularly deserving of being where they are. Undoubtedly, such memorials are also likely to be treated with more respect (and tolerated for longer periods of time) by highway crews and local civil authorities, than are memorials to civilians.
Understandably, the feelings provoked by a challenge to roadside memorials tend to run higher when memorials to law enforcement officers are involved. This is illustrated in the case of American Atheists v. Duncan, in which a federal court of appeals will soon be issuing a decision which may have a wide-ranging impact.
In 1998 a private organization, the Utah Highway Patrol Association (UHPA), began a program of putting up 12-foot high crosses near places where a Utah highway patrol officer died in the line of duty. Each showed the Utah Highway Patrol's insignia as well as the officer's name. Many were placed on public property. The program was carried out with the knowledge and consent, albeit not the direct support, of the State of Utah.
American Atheists, Inc. challenged the UHPA program in Utah federal district court, arguing that it involved government endorsement of religion. In November, 2007, the court dismissed the challenge and permitted the program to continue. The court reasoned that while the cross retained a religious meaning when in a religious context, it had transformed into an essentially secular symbol representing death and/or burial when placed in pop culture settings and when used as a memorial:
American Atheists appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. A three-judge panel of that court, which is located in Denver, heard oral argument in the case on March 9, 2009. A decision is expected this summer.
Some of the briefs which have been filed in the Court of Appeals are available on-line, and they provide a good overview of the issues and arguments:
[Don't be put off by the legalistic look of these documents. Like all good modern legal writing, they are all plainly written, straightforward and accessible. You may not agree with all of the arguments, but you'll understand what they are]
IN 2004, I was contacted by an independent filmmaker, Joe "Kip" Kipikash, who told me he was planning on making a pair of films -- a narrative drama, and a documentary -- centering on the subject of roadside memorials. He wanted to discuss using some of the images in my Descansos series, in the films. I was glad to help out.
In the summer of 2005, after Kip's dramatic movie, "Descansos", had finished shooting and was approaching completion, I was contacted by Kip's associate, Melissa Villanueva, another young independent filmmaker from the Kansas City area. Melissa had been first assistant director on "Descansos", and she had been enlisted by Kip to produce the documentary, which was to be called "Resting Places".
Melissa asked if I could come down to Kansas City to be interviewed for the film. I jumped at the chance to get involved. I flew out of Madison early Saturday morning, and after flying the wrong way to make my connection through Milwaukee, I finally got going in the right direction, and arrived at Kansas City in mid-morning.
I was picked up by a crew member, Kyle, who drove me around the KC area looking for roadside memorials -- and the rest of the crew. They were out shooting an interview with Ilan Ginzburg, a French photographer who has also made a study of roadside memorial, and who had also been flown in to be part of the film.
Ilan's evocative images can be found at his on-line exhibit, "Lieux de passage" . Ilan has also now posted a collection of his photographs of this weekend, here.
After we all connected at lunch, we went out to shoot some scenes of me photographing a roadside memorial.
On location, I was supposed to pull over in a van, get out and walk over to the memorial, and start shooting photos.
Easier said than done. I needed to pull the van up and stop at the exact point the camera's focus was set at. I had a little trouble "hitting my mark" (my excuse was the van's touchy accelerator pedal). That eventually being done, I managed all right, I think, walking around and following Kip's directions.
I could have just pretended, dry-firing for the video camera, but as long as I was there, I took a number of exposures of the memorial that was the focus of the shot.
Just as we were finishing, a trooper pulled up to check out the suspicious activity. Kip explained to him that it had all been cleared in advance.
After this, we headed back to the facilities of Flagler Productions, which is handling the production, where I was interviewed in front of a faux darkroom set.
I can't remember much about the interview. I am counting on the magic of editing to make me sound intelligent and thoughtful.
The day ended with great conversation with Melissa, Kip and Ilan over a great Kansas City steak dinner.
The following morning, we were up early for filming of an interview on location at O'Dowd's, a bar in downtown Kansas City.
While the location was being set up, Ilan and I wandered the Plaza area of old Kansas City, putting our new digital cameras to some work.
Then we returned to O'Dowd's, where the final preparations were being made for shooting the interview.
The interview subject for the morning was Eddie Delahunt, self-proclaimed "bon vivant, scientist, big game hunter, [and] runway model".
Eddie is a Dubliner now resident in Kansas City -- where he is, in actuality, a musician.
Eddie was to talk about soldiers' memorials and other related traditions of Ireland.
Soon, however, it was time for me to catch my flight back to Madison.
As mentioned above, more images of this weekend as viewed through Ilan's eyes and camera, can be seen at Ilan's parallel reminiscence of this weekend, "Resting Places". (There are some interesting connections between the photos: for example, here is Ilan's photo of me around the time I took this photo ; and here is my photo of Ilan around the time he took this photo.)