Shot entirely in Grinnell, Saints Rest movie draws praise at world premiere

May 7, 2018 — It started with a feeling that Saints Rest evoked for Noga Ashkenazi ’09.

Noga Ashkenazi prepares to shoot a scene inside Saints Rest during filming in July 2016.
   Noga Ashkenazi prepares to
   shoot a scene inside Saints
   Rest during filming in July 2016.

“As a student I spent a lot of time at Saints Rest, and I found the coffee shop to be warm and welcoming,” she says. “It’s a magical place. I fell in love with the sense of community around Saints Rest. It was a second home away from home. That’s also true for the town of Grinnell. I wanted to capture that feeling in a movie.”

Nine years after her graduation from Grinnell College, the Tel Aviv, Israel, native is returning with a love song she directed to Grinnell.

Saints Rest will be shown during Grinnell’s Summerfest at 8:30 p.m. June 9 at the Harris Center, 1114 10th Ave. Ashkenazi will give a Q&A with a sneak peak of the film at 5 p.m. that same day at Flanagan Studio Theatre inside the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, 1108 Park St.

A musical drama, Saints Rest tells the story of two estranged sisters (played by Hani Furstenberg and Allie Trimm) who over the course of one summer form a connection through their shared love of music. One sister left for Broadway while the other stayed behind to run Saints Rest. The two attempt to reconcile the summer after their mother dies.

The film was shot entirely in Grinnell during the summer of 2016. Numerous Grinnell College alumni were involved in the film’s making including Paul McCulley ’79, executive producer; Tyson Stock ’09, co-writer; Brian Cavanagh-Strong ’09, music director; Jaysen Wright ’09, actor; Jon Richardson ’10, actor; Sumana Shankar ’10, actress; Grace Lloyd ’16, makeup artist; Michael Kelley ’16, art department; and Melissa Fandos ’17, second assistant director.

Besides the celebrated coffee shop, Grinnell alumni will notice several familiar places on screen. There’s exterior shots of Grinnell College and downtown along with stops inside Lonnski’s Pub & Deli, The Bar, Bowladrome, Almost Always Open gas station and, of course, Dari Barn.

“I think I romanticized my time in Grinnell because I have really good memories from my years there,” Ashkenazi says. “I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, a big city that is very different than Grinnell. I saw Grinnell with an outsider eyes. This love I have for small town Iowa comes from feeling really at home there.”

The film premiered April 26 and was shown in front of three sold out audiences at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Saints Rest won an audience award at the festival.

“Hearing the audience vocally respond to the film – they laughed and cried – was really validating,” Ashkenazi says. "They enjoyed it so much and asked during the Q&A where they could buy the soundtrack and watch the movie again. It was a really positive experience and a huge honor to win the audience award."

Michael McIntire (actor), Allie Trimm (actress), Noga Ashkenazi ‘09 (director), Brian Cavanagh-Strong ‘09 (music director), and Devin Landin (producer) pose for a photo at the world premiere of Saints Rest.
Devin Landin (producer), left, Brian Cavanagh-Strong ‘09 (music director), Noga Ashkenazi ‘09 (director), Allie Trimm (actress), and Michael McIntire (actor) pose for a photo at the world premiere of Saints Rest.

Ashkenazi has been a film buff since age 14. She studied filmmaking at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. Since Grinnell didn’t have a film major, she studied theatre and dance, eagerly taking on roles as director and choreographer in College productions. She now divides her time between theater and film.

At Grinnell, Ashkenazi learned she had a voice as an artist, and that voice was appreciated by her professors and classmates. This allowed her to gain confidence in her own work.

Ashkenazi’s first film was a documentary about women in prison, The Grey Area: Feminism Behind Bars. She was inspired to make the film while at Grinnell after volunteering to teach a class on feminism to Iowa inmates. Ashkenazi returned to Iowa to direct Saints Rest, her first feature film. She had wanted to make a musical and tell a story about women for a while.

“That aren’t many films that are female driven and have lead characters for women that aren’t a romantic plotline,” Ashkenazi says. “The film is about women’s lives, aspirations, and struggles, and the relationship between two sisters.”

Ashkenazi planted the idea of a movie filmed at Saints Rest with former owner, Jeff Phelps ’71, back when she was student. Later, Phelps introduced Ashkenazi to the new owner, Sam Cox.

Cox said she always tries to support student and alumni projects. She was immediately on board with the idea for filming the movie inside Saints Rest.

“I’m so fortunate that Saints Rest touches so many people’s lives,” Cox says. “I get to know many students during their time here. It’s great they want to return to Grinnell as alumni and stop back in.”

Cox is excited to see how Saints Rest looks on film, and she’s equally eager to watch her dog, Toby, make his acting debut. Toby is in the movie during a chorus scene. Overall, Cox hasn’t seen much of what was filmed. She decided to go on vacation the week of the shooting.

“With all the chaos that ensued within this building, I probably would have lost my mind had I been here,” she says while laughing.

After the shooting wrapped, Ashkenazi spent many months in the editing room putting the film together. Next was sound design, color correction, and online after effects. Once it was complete, Ashkenazi started to submit the movie to film festivals.

As for the music, Cavanagh-Strong and two Israeli composers wrote most of the songs.

“The music is a combination of pop and soul,” Ashkenazi said. “The Too Many Strings band and the Grinnell Community Theater both sang in the film. It’s a lot of different styles but they all feel like Grinnell to me.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Ashkenazi is working on adding film screenings in Iowa City, Chicago and several other locations. The best way to keep track of future screenings is to follow the movie Facebook page or sign up for the mailing list found on the film website at