'Resting Places', A Documentary Film About Roadside Memorials"RESTING PLACES" -

"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.  

 "Resting Places" was an 
  official selection at: 

2007 Kansas International Film Festival  
   2007 Santa Fe Film Festival   
   2008 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival 
   2008 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

and . . .

"Resting Places" will be screened in New York City on October 26, 2009, as part of the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.  The screening will be held at the Village East Cinema, at 181 2nd Ave. at 12th Street.  Screening schedule information is available, and tickets can be purchased, at this page of the NYIIFVF website


More information:





Image of a descanso on the High Road to Taos; New Mexico"Should Roadside Memorials Be Banned?" -- nytimes.com "Room For Debate" blog, July 12, 2009
"If you drive anywhere these days — and not just in the summer — you’ve see them, roadside memorials with crosses and flowers to honor the victim of a car accident. And they’re not limited to roads and highways. On city street corners, candles, photos and stuffed animals can be found paying tribute to a victim of violence. These homemade shrines, however, are not without controversy. Why do people feel a need to build them? Are they a distraction or a warning? Should restrictions be placed on them?..." Commentary by Robert Tiernan, lawyer; Sylvia Grider, anthropologist; Melissa Villanueva, filmmaker; Arthur Jipson, criminologist; Lloyd Wolf, photographer.


"Big Sky Documentary Film Festival:  5 'Don’t Miss' Documentaries" - New West, Feb. 12, 2008
"Don’t you love it when a documentary lifts a little corner on a debate you didn’t know was raging over something you’d only barely noticed? Well, that’s what Resting Places does...Director Villanueva presents the opposing views in balance, though natural human empathy would seem to tip that balance well away from the attorney who regards descansos on public land as an insult to the public and a harbinger of social chaos. Yet he, too, has a surprising story to tell—one of many in this surprisingly intriguing little doc."  


"Film explores use of ‘descansos’ " - SantaFeNewMexican.com, Nov 16, 2007
"A documentary that explains why descansos — roadside memorials — are seen more and more worldwide will be shown at the Santa Fe Film Festival.  Resting Places, produced by Kansas City filmmaker Melissa Villanueva, includes photographs from around the world, including Santa Fe. The narrator is Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson. . ."


"Let these resting places rest in peace", by Mike Hendricks - Kansas City Star, Feb 28, 2007 
"... Villanueva and Kipikash, executive producer, trace descansos back to ancient Spanish funeral rituals. Indeed the first region in the United States where roadside memorials were first prevalent was the Southwest. But in recent decades, the practice has spread throughout the United States and beyond.   'Why the sudden surge?'..." The filmmakers sought to contact and learn the story of roadside memorial keepers


"Up To Date" with Steve Kraske - KCUR Kansas City FM 89, Feb 28, 2007 [audio - mp3 file] 
Steve Kraske hosts a conversation about the role of roadside memorials with filmmakers Melissa Villanueva, producer of the documentary "Resting Places", Joe "Kip" Kipikash, director of the feature film "Descansos", Dr. Sylvia Grider, a retired professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University, and Kansas State Senator Phil Journey, sponsor of a bill concerning roadside memorials... 


"Oscar-Nominated Actor Tells Descansos Stories" - Press Release, Nov 2006  
"...In Resting Places, Liam Neeson tells the story of three families who maintain roadside memorials, and the attorney who wants all such markers torn down. The documentary was produced by Melissa Villanueva and was shot in true high-definition on the Sony CineAlta..."


 "As Roadside Memorials Multiply, a Second Look", by Ian Urbina - New York Times,  Feb 6, 2006  
"...While many states have adopted rules regarding the memorials in recent years, Melissa Villanueva, a filmmaker from Kansas City, Mo., who is working on a documentary about the memorials, said the laws were almost never enforced.  "We found lots of people who dislike the memorials but very few willing to actually take them down," Ms. Villanueva said. 'Most people can't help but feel like these are sitting on hallowed ground'..." 






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:

...the cross has attained a secular status as Americans have used it to honor the place where fallen soldiers and citizens lay buried, or had fatal accidents, regardless of their religious belief. And the progression of the cross from a religious to a secular symbol continues as crosses are increasingly used to symbolize death in advertising campaigns, films, television, and seasonal holiday decorations -- frequently having nothing to do with religion or a particular religious belief. Consequently, the court finds a reasonable observer, aware of the history and context of the community would not view the memorial crosses as a government endorsement of religion.

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:

Brief of Utah Highway Patrol Association

Brief Of Amici Curiae Americans United For Separation Of Church And State, The Anti-Defamation League, The Hindu American Foundation, The Interfaith Alliance, The Union For Reform Judaism, And Dr. Eugene J. Fisher

Brief amici curiae of the States of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma and the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty

Brief of amicus curiae Robert E. Mackey

[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. 



TITLEAfter 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.


TITLEHere, Ilan and Kip are going over some of Ilan's prints.  

Ilan's images of roadside memorials in his native France are also set to appear in the movies.TITLE

The day ended with great conversation with Melissa, Kip and Ilan over a great Kansas City steak dinner.  


TITLEThe following morning, we were up early for filming of an interview on location at O'Dowd's, a bar in downtown Kansas City. TITLE




TITLEWhile 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.  

TITLEThen we returned to O'Dowd's, where the final preparations were being made for shooting the interview. 



TITLEThe interview subject for the morning was Eddie Delahunt, self-proclaimed "bon vivant, scientist, big game hunter, [and] runway model".TITLE  

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. 


TITLEI  was able to shoot some  scenes inside O'Dowd's during preparation for shooting Eddie's interview.  

Soon, however,  it was time for me to catch my flight back to Madison.



TITLEAs 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.) 




More about roadside memorials here:

Descansos: Roadside Memorials on the American Highway








the old same place

text and images © 2004 by David B. Nance