About a third of the way through Finders Keepers, I began wondering if the ever expanding window between the old stodgy methods of documentary creation and the new, collective freedom from its once technical and financial constraints now created a new problem.
Someone…anyone…. can now make a film about anyone…. or anything. In this case, it’s about two men. A storage locker. A charcoal grill. And a severed human leg found inside that grill. By the end of Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel’s film, I wondered why there aren’t more films like this that soundly expose simple truths about family, regret, forgiveness and our place in the modern vacuum of media overload.
But back to that severed leg. The documentary begins with two delineated personalities, John Wood and Shannon Whisnant. Wood, born from wealthy North Carolina family stock, lives the life of a privileged kid, flying with his father and riding horses. Whisnant, on the other hand, is farther down the social totem pole, his head equally in the clouds, but with visions of Hollywood stardom.
After his father’s death and an accident that leaves him with a badly damaged leg, Wood has his appendage amputated and chooses to immortalize the moment by keeping the severed limb as a human trophy. But, bad choices, substance abuse and the encompassing guilt over his father’s death (you see, he flew the plane that crashed) lead Wood down a path of depression and alienation from his family. He eventually loses the right to his storage facility and it’s sold via auction.
Enter local flea marketeer and grand dreamer Shannon Whisnant, who ends up buying the locker and finding the leg. After creating a mountain of press — which includes charging people money to see the human leg in his homemade exhibit — a showdown between Wood and Whisnant ensues that plays out among the local tabloid media, eventually earning the men a spot on a people’s court TV show. We often wonder where the individuals who pop up on “Jerry Springer” come from. Well, here’s exhibit A in Wood and Whisnant.
Yet, despite all the white-trash rigor, Finders Keepers surfaces into something highly illuminating about the peaks and valleys of the two men. They slowly become low level pawns in a type of insane property-rights circus that captures the public’s imagination. Further still, filmmakers Carberry and Tweel ween away from the central struggle of the leg and develop a moving testament to Wood and Whisnant’s growth back to something basic in their lives. Finders Keepers stresses that, vicariously, their feud led them down strange, winding paths which turned cathartic for one and tragic for another, despite where they both began.
If nothing else, Finders Keepers proves there’s human gold in the weirdest places. Here’s hoping that window continues to expand and more and more people are encouraged to point a camera at these weird, wild and unique aspects of our modern world.
Finders Keepers opens in limited release in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Friday, October 2 at the Texas Theater.