Antenna Documentary Film Festival returns for its fifth season this October (13th-18th), screening the very best in non-fiction films from Australia and around the world, the Antenna DocTalk series, retrospective program and international guests. Screening the very best documentaries from across the globe, Antenna offers a program that is both intelligent and diverse; one that challenges conceptions and conventions of the world around us. It will be screening at the Chauvel, Verona and MCA cinemas.
This is the third year Salty Popcorn has loved and covered Antenna and to kick it off we hit up FINDERS KEEPERS, a strange docco that Kernel Morgan reviews, and I should add, awards a perfect score to. FINDERS KEEPERS is screening on Sunday 18th at Chauvel Cinema, Paddington, it is rare for Morgan to award a perfect score so assume this movie is bloody brilliant. Tickets are on sale now and are available HERE. Enjoy Morgan’s review and get in early and book some tickets to this amazing festival……..all the best………JK.
FINDERS KEEPERS is a documentary film on a seemingly comical topic matter, that turns out to be heartfelt and endearing. The filmmakers have taken a local news story – a custody case over a severed leg – and investigated behind the headlines. But what they have produced is so deep behind the headlines that it deserves a standing ovation. They have reached in and grasped the core of the human condition and held it up for us to plainly see. This film is a triumph, it is the craftsmanship of storytelling at its best.
In Maiden North Carolina, John Wood, an amputee, has failed to pay the fees on his storage unit. Local wheeler-dealer Shannon Whisnant buys the contents of the abandoned no. 48 storage unit. When the roller door is opened the first thing he sees, front and centre is a barbeque grill. Inside that grill is a human leg from the knee down. Shannon, always the business-man, starts charging people to view the bodily remains and becomes known about town as the ‘foot man’.
The basic story in that in 2004 John lost his leg in an airplane crash. He requested the skeletal remains of the leg and it was sent to him in a white garbage bag with the flesh still intact. A bit of humour comes into the chain of custody of the leg from there. He asks a friend to refrigerate the leg at the local Hardees, the manager finds it and tells him to pick it up at the drive-thru window. John tears the fly-screen off his front door, gets some embalming fluid from the local funeral home, and bastes it in the smoker. He intended to up outside in a tree to sun-dry it. Obviously some drug use was a factor in this odd behaviour. John soon gets evicted, no doubt for destroying the front door, and moves to South Carolina. His mother paid for the first three months of his storage unit, and when the account goes into arrears Shannon becomes the owner of the contents. Shannon remarks about the mummified leg “it sort of looked like driftwood.”
John says about Shannon that if everyone has a soulmate then everyone also has a nemesis, and Shannon Whisnant is his. Shannon considers John to be a spoiled brat and an elitist snob who would look down on him and think of him as ‘a nobody’. He knows John’s family had a roller rink in their basement and a go-kart track with go-karts. At the point of meeting at the Dollar General store – across from the storage locker – the two men meet, glaring and posturing. Shannon claims to have convinced John to split custody or have a joint business venture. John says he never considered entering into any such deal. Shannon goes to the media talking trash about John, saying “I guess he was born with a silver crack pipe in his mouth.”
As a young man John could never live up to his father’s expectations. Drugs became a big part of life, but he cleaned himself up right before the airplane crash that took his leg. His father, Tom, was a pilot, and on that fateful day he proposed going flying and turned to the family and said “All cowards stay here.” During the flight the plane began vibrating and sputtering in a weather front. John’s prosthetic limb reminds him every day of the death of a family member, and he wants to make a tribute with the skeletal remains. Other family members refused to have a memorial after the death. It is very sad watching John when he can’t find the tribute at the crash site, and the filmmaker asks him what their last words were.
Shannon’s father was a mean man who whipped him regularly and gave him no positive attention. As a child Shannon would learn Gene Tracy jokes and do anything for a laugh. He gets adrenaline from being on TV or in the media, and prides himself on being the world’s no. 1 salesman.
This documentary is scored beautifully with some classical music, some banjo, and a general ability to match the mood and tone of what’s being presented. Subtitles are used on John about half the time when his thick southern accent might seem garbled to non-Americans. Current day interviews are the bulk of the footage. The character of both men is perfectly encapsulated by live motion snippets of glances and expressions. There is some archival footage of home videos from John’s family home videos, which is used masterfully to mirror scenes of John today. Newspaper headings of the airplane crash that took John’s leg are used to reveal key pieces of information.
We follow the journey of John and Shannon as they are flown to Europe to appear on a TV show, and then appear on the Judge Mathis program in America (where all judgements are final). Shannon has an appearance on the Dukes of Haggle show. John’s counsellor tells us that the saga with Shannon and the leg provided John with focus and motivation. It ultimately leads to John being re-integrated with his family. Shannon’s stubbornness is the catalyst for John going through the motions of grief and getting his life back.
You can’t ask for a better documentary experience than FINDERS KEEPERS. It takes two prickly screw-up characters and puts a human face on them. The filmmakers give the men time to speak. They let the camera linger and capture tender and telling moments. They let friends and family contextualise who they are as people, and what events led to their determination in this moment. This documentary will stay with you long after you watch it, and opens your eyes to how much people project life-long failures into single-issue conflicts. It is about the baggage behind the façade.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.