REVIEW: Missing People

Hot Docs 2015

3 mins read

Missing People

USA, 80 min.
Directed by David Shapiro
World Premiere

Missing People follows Martina Batan, director of the prestigious New York City art gallery Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. The film begins with her haunting recollection from 35 years earlier of the tragic unsolved murder of her younger brother, 14 at the time, and its effect on her family.

In the heady world of successful gallerists, Batan is clearly a person who can ‘make’ an artist. And this, we presume, is the journey that she is undertaking when near the beginning of the film we learn that Batan has been obsessively hunting down and collecting the work of undiscovered New Orleans artist Roy Ferdinand. Her obsession even includes gathering the naïve artist’s life ephemera and personal belongings-right down to a pair of old boots still stuffed with his dirty socks.

A street-savvy, self-professed former ‘gang-banger’, Ferdinand’s colourful representational drawings depict a life filled with sex, drugs, con-artists, guns, violence, and the world that surrounds him. We follow as Batan travels to New Orleans to compulsively learn more about Ferdinand’s roots and to seek out his family. She carts around a shopping bag filled with recipe card sized print-outs of his artworks.

Ferreting out a former patron, as well as the sisters of the artist, Batan travels the streets inhabited by Ferdinand before his death. It is here, in the comfortable middle class home of Ferdinand’s two sisters that the central question is posed. The same question that I have in my mind. ‘Why is Batan so obsessed with the work of Ferdinand?’ ‘What’s in it for her?’ It is here that we witness this professional, business-woman, demonstrate her first real display of emotion. The scene provides a clue as to the themes that the film seeks to weave together-those of tragedy and loss and how we often move forward in our lives blindly seeking some form of truth.

We are left with the memory of an earlier quote from Ferdinand, which might also serve as the mantra of the filmmaker, “If it wasn’t for what I do, nobody would ever even know these people existed. That’s one of the important things in life, for somebody to acknowledge that you’re there.”

Hot Docs 2015 Screenings
Fri, May 1 9:15 PM
Hart House Theatre

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