Finders Keepers  at face value, examines the unexpected intersection of Shannon Whisnant and John Wood’s lives when Whisnant purchases a grill, from a storage auction, in which Wood was using to store his amputated left leg. The conflict arises when Whisnant refuses to return Wood’s leg back to him. Such a description does not lend itself to immediate realization that this is, in fact, a documentary: proving that at times, life can indeed be stranger than fiction. Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel share directorial credit for bringing the stories of Wood and Whisnant to the silver screen
Barney Fife, Maiden Cop: reporting for duty…This is a story that takes place in a town called Maiden. Of late, Maiden is probably best known as the home of Apple’s iCloud Data Centre. However, something less likely to be known about Maiden is that back in 2007, it was the zany town where Wood and Whisnant duked it out over a disembodied leg. “It’s a funny story!” Wood’s mom, Peg will exclaim during her talking head and she is not wrong. This is a funny story. And Finders Keepers is a funny documentary. But as Peg will go on to say that, albeit funny, this story is “born of tragedy” and she is, again, not wrong. What is praiseworthy here is Carberry and Tweel’s treatment of humour and tragedy. Though this story easily lends itself to ridicule, this documentary is never making fun of these people. There are no dismissive, “Oh, you cray-cray Southerners,” sentiments here. In fact, Carberry and Tweel go to great lengths to humanize Wood and Whisnant. No single person is presented as a unilateral villain or victim. In one talking head, Whisnant’s wife, Lisa, will wistfully recall first meeting Shannon. In another, Peg Wood will confess her ambivalence towards John. And yet, amongst the heavier elements of these men’s lives, there is humour. There is humour in putting a leg in a smoker; and, there is humour in finding a leg in a smoker. There is humour in Southern charm; in the non-diegetic music; in the things that are said onscreen; and even in the world’s reaction to this story. (One of my biggest laughs is from a tagline found in some archival footage of a local news program.) This documentary delivers some truly laugh-out-loud moments; so, if you plan to watch Finders Keepers, it’s probably wisest to drink your accompanying beverage strategically.
These are formal elements. There are many like them, but these are mine… Finders Keepers features such a great story filled with such memorable characters that it may be easy to overlook that this is a formally well-made documentary. This is a story that, to anyone not directly involved, would seem like it is the inconsequential stuff of newsroom floor ephemera. Yet, Carberry and Tweel are able to adeptly bring this story back to life through the thoughtful use of film form. Talking heads and interviews, archival footage, (simple) animation and re-enactments are all used. However, what is most exciting is how the filmmakers create dynamism by paying attention to the juxtaposition of images and sounds. For instance, at one point, Wood muses about soul-mates: reasoning that if they exist, then there must also be personal antichrists (alluding to Whisnant). This piece of sound is paired with a match-cut from a shot of Wood to a shot of Whisnant. It’s an elegant and understated way of establishing the main thread of Finders Keepers: namely, that these men are more similar than they could imagine. In other moments, images will be presented with pieces of music that seem to comment on what is shown. (Carmen No. 2: Habanera is used to great effect.) At another point, a piece of Whisnant’s interview dialogue, which is accusing Wood of being overprivileged, will form a sound bridge into the next shot of Wood sipping pop from a Spongebob Squarepants tumbler (which, as we all know, is the height of swanky bourgeois living). These are but a few noteworthy examples and it’s the filmmakers’ insightful and playful use of formal elements that augment this zany story, taking it from silly to profound.
The void is full of people…There is so much that could be said of Finders Keepers, but to be pragmatic, it suffices to say that this is a thematically rich documentary. Wood and Whisnant are both troubled men. Each is trying to fill a personal void by pursuing a white whale of their own making. It should be no surprise that the famed disembodied leg quickly becomes a smokescreen: an object onto which Wood and Whisnant project their hopes and fears. In examining these men’s stories, Carberry and Tweel dive into the psyche of people with haunted pasts and the result is a complex portrait of humanity.
Two men, one leg. You’ll want to see it.