Sundance Sensation to Open Lighthouse International Film Festival

‘Finders Keepers’ a Real Find
By RICK MELLERUP | May 14, 2015

The opening night selection for the 2015 Lighthouse International Film Festival, scheduled for June 4-7, will be “Finders Keepers,” perhaps the most talked-about movie at Sundance this winter.

Don’t confuse this “Finders Keepers,” an 84-minute documentary directed by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel, with a 2014 TV movie of the same name. That one, shown on the Syfy network, was typical boob tube fodder – a single mother and young daughter move into a charming Victorian, not knowing a bloody murder had taken place in the house (think “The Amityville Horror”). Horror ensues when the girl finds a creepy doll under the floorboards (think Chucky from “Child’s Play”). In other words, that “Finders Keepers” was regurgitated schlock.

This “Finders Keepers,” judges and critics have agreed, is genuinely original and fantastic in the sense of “odd and remarkable.”

Andrew Barker of Variety said its story is “about as bizarre as they come.” A headline writer for The Hollywood Reporter called it “Sundance’s Weirdest Movie.” “It’s like the most epic, insane episode of ‘Storage Wars’ there ever was,” said Lighthouse founder Charlie Prince.

This “Finders Keepers” centers around a real-life custody battle – over an amputated leg!

Now, history is littered with strange tales of dismembered limbs and organs. The most famous involves Albert Einstein’s brain, removed from his skull after his death in 1955 and dissected into several pieces for research. What made that story especially interesting is that it was forgotten for over 20 years before being rediscovered by a journalist in 1978, preserved in alcohol in two large mason jars! Slides of the brain are now one of the most popular exhibits at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, along with the conjoined liver of the Siamese twins Chang and Eng, a piece of John Wilkes Booth’s thorax and a section of brain from Charles J. Guiteau, President James Garfield’s assassin.

Any Civil War enthusiast worth his or her weight in Minie balls knows the story of Union Major Gen. Daniel E. Sickles’ leg. One of the most controversial generals of the Civil War, and the first person in U.S. history to use temporary insanity as a successful legal defense for murder, he lost his right leg on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Sickles not only donated the bones from his leg to the newly founded Army Medical Museum (now the National Museum of Health and Medicine) in Washington, D.C., but purportedly visited them on the anniversary of his amputation for several years. His leg is on display to this day.

Then there’s the Sourtoe Cocktail, served at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon. You can order it with any combination of liquors and mixers you want, but it will always include a petrified amputated human toe. “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – but the lips have gotta touch the toe” are the rules at the bar. Several toes have been accidentally or, in one case, purposely swallowed and replaced since the tradition started in 1973. Approximately 60,000 people have sampled the drink.

Weird stories all, but none of them have a leg up on “Finders Keepers.”

In 2004, a North Carolinian named John Wood had a leg removed at the knee after being in a small plane crash that also killed his father, an executive with the Ethan Allen furniture company. Wood decided to keep the leg to make it part of a memorial for his father that he envisioned.

Wood was expecting the hospital to give him bones. Instead they gave him his entire lower leg, flesh and all, frozen and stuffed in a garbage bag! He kept it in deep freeze for months and then decided to permanently preserve it, soaking it in embalming fluid, wrapping it in wire screening and hanging it from a tree in a possum trap (remember, we’re talking North Carolina) to keep animals away from it while the leg air-dried.

This is already a story worthy of a reality TV show, right? But wait, there’s more …

Woods became an alcoholic and a drug addict while recovering from the accident. Estranged from his family, he was evicted from his home, so he placed all of his belongings, including his leg, in a storage locker. He fell behind on his rental fees, so his locker’s contents were auctioned off. A man named Shannon Whisnant was the high bidder, and when he opened a slow BBQ cooker he found in the locker, he discovered Wood’s leg.

Whisnant had some southern-fried P.T. Barnum in him and, calling himself “The Foot Man,” attempted to make some cash from his find, displaying the inside of the now-empty smoker at $3 a pop ($1 for kids) and printing and selling “Foot Man” T-shirts. Meanwhile, Wood wanted his leg back. The, uh, running battle between the two men became a local, and then an international, news story. The case finally went to court in 2007. Well, sort of a court – the “Judge Mathis” TV show. Don’t worry, we’ll keep the ruling under wraps so as to not spoil your fun.

And there’s no doubt that people who check out “Finders Keepers” at the Lighthouse International Film Festival will have plenty of fun.

“Documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival often involve serious stuff like climate change, education reform, racism and even terrorism,” wrote reviewer Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. “‘Finders Keepers’ is nothing like that, nothing at all.”

“Slickly directed … this fast-paced, laugh-out-loud movie will catch you by surprise with amusing animation to help simplify the story as well as a great ear for the more picturesque rhythms of low-income southerners,” said Brian Moylan of The Guardian.

Come on, get off your high horse, you want to gawk, don’t ya? The urge to peek behind the curtain at a circus sideshow has always been with you; “The Beverly Hillbillies” proved long ago that people love to laugh at rednecks.

“Finders Keepers,” however, isn’t just a comedy.

“Yet what makes ‘Finders Keepers’ such an unexpected film is that what starts out strange ends up in unforeseen poignancy, as the adversaries come to find, to surprise all around, that this legal struggle for an amputated leg changes both of them in profound ways,” wrote Turan.

“What could easily be a silly saga or a simple indictment of the culture of fame becomes something diabolically more insightful and uplifting,” Moylan decided. “It’s about how one small incident can change the lives of two families. It shows that reality television only has as much power as we give it, and that power can be used for both good and evil.”

It will be interesting to see how Carberry and Tweel turned a freak show into a center-ring attraction. Apparently they did because all the reviews this reporter could find save one think they pulled off an incredible high-wire balancing act.

Need more proof of the uniqueness and power of this film? In March, “Finders Keepers” won the two biggest awards at the Sun Valley Film Festival.

“Finders Keepers” will be screened at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, located at 120 Long Beach Blvd. in Loveladies, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 4. Co-director Bryan Carberry is expected to attend.

Tickets for “Finders Keepers,” all of the festival’s other screenings, and all access passes to all events may be purchased online at

— Rick Mellerup

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.