You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Missing People’

David Shapiro's documentary tells a compelling tale entwining the upscale New York art scene and New Orleans ghetto life.

With:
Martina Batan, Faye Harris, Michele Ferdinand, Conor McCourt, Sean Ellwood, David Carrino, Andy Antippas, Regina Perry, Bill Sasser, Ronald Feldman, Frayda Feldman.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4169716/

A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the kinds of shared personal grief that can bond otherwise greatly dissimilar people. Hard to encapsulate yet sure to engross audiences who find their way to it, this nonfiction character study/mystery should excite interest on the fest circuit, with tube, download and possible niche theatrical sales to follow.

Martina Batan was a Manhattan art school student in 1978 when her 14-year-old brother was found stabbed to death outside an apartment complex in their native Queens, having never returned home from a nearby diner the night before. The tragedy tore apart their surviving family (though no Batans other than Martina are interviewed here).

Decades later, she’d risen to become director of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, a prestigious institution that has represented some of the leading visual artists of recent decades. But even the Feldmans themselves admit there remains something guarded and mysterious about their longtime protegee/employee. When we meet Batan, she’s newly divorced, confessing she finds the company of her dogs more manageable than any human intimacy.

Plagued by nightmares and insomnia since her brother’s demise decades earlier, she compulsively builds a massive Lego cube in her living room on sleepless nights — one of several OCD-type behaviors. Another is her collecting of drawings by the late New Orleans “original gangster” (or so he claimed) Roy Ferdinand, who before his 2004 death turned to making blunt, technically unpolished yet powerful depictions of life in his ‘hood. They offer a panorama of violence: police-inflicted, domestic, drug- and gang-related, all bent on annihilating a fragile African-American community.

While seemingly no one else in the art world has picked up on this “outsider” talent to date, Batan is determined to push him posthumously into the limelight. Her fixation eventually pulls her to the Big Easy, where she meets Ferdinand’s sisters. Communication is wary at first, with the surviving sibs uncertain just what this upscale New Yorker’s intentions are. But once they drag some confidences out of her, the women realize they have some potent overlaps in their histories of familial dysfunction and loss.

This breakthrough somehow emboldens Batan to hire a private investigator to probe her brother’s never-solved murder. Though the original police detectives have since passed away, the P.I. nonetheless uncovers significant new info. Those revelations are often jarring, however, and the stress of learning perhaps more than she can handle after suppressing the trauma all these years ultimately drives the pic and its protagonist to a very dramatic late twist of fate.

Woven throughout these evolving intrigues is video footage of Roy Ferdinand himself, a man with compulsions and demons of his own whose latest reinvention as a colored-pencil-sketching journalist/historian to an embattled community ended before he found more than minor, local recognition. Shapiro and collaborators adeptly weave these complex threads to build suspense and spring several narrative surprises. Reflecting Batan’s personality, the tone juggles an intellectual reserve and a droll taste for the macabre with more straightforward, poignant human interest.

Expert assembly is particularly well served by a fine soundtrack of (mostly) new multi-artist cuts that sound like buried nuggets from the protag’s formative years in New York’s fertile multimedia punk/New Wave underground.

Film Review: 'Missing People'

Reviewed at Hot Docs Film Festival (Next), Toronto, April 26, 2015. Running time: 79 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A DoubleParked Pictures production. (International sales: DoubleParked Pictures, Astoria, N.Y.) Produced by David Shapiro, Alan Oxman, Michael Tubbs.

Crew: Directed, written by David Shapiro. Camera (color, HD), Lisa Rinzler; editors, Becky Laks, Adam Kurnitz; music, Stephen Russell, Christopher North, Michael Tubbs, Justin Vollmar, Nick Cregor, Ashley Eriksson, Eli Moore, Evan Hashi, Tom Filardo, Stephen Steinbrink; music supervisor, Adam Oelsner; sound, John Zecca, Tom Jordan.

With: Martina Batan, Faye Harris, Michele Ferdinand, Conor McCourt, Sean Ellwood, David Carrino, Andy Antippas, Regina Perry, Bill Sasser, Ronald Feldman, Frayda Feldman.

More Film

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Oscar-Winning British Producer: Weinstein 'Physical Assaulted Me'

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

  • Timothy Spall, Vanessa Redgrave's 'Mrs Lowry

    Timothy Spall, Vanessa Redgrave's 'Mrs Lowry & Son' Wraps Filming, New Image Released (EXCLUSIVE)

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

  • Regisseur Lars Kraume am Set von

    Berlin Profiles: Lars Kraume, Director of 'The Silent Revolution'

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

  • Maxime Saada Canal Plus Group

    Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group Creates Film Division

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

  • 3 Tage in Quiberon 3 Days

    Berlin Profile: Emily Atef Takes Snapshot of Romy Schneider in '3 Days in Quiberon’

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

  • Berlin: Brazil Buys Remake Rights to

    Berlin: Brazil Buys Remake Rights to 'Corazon de Leon’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

  • Watch: Dakota Fanning's Directorial Debut Short

    Watch: Dakota Fanning's Directorial Debut Short 'Hello Apartment'

    A curious intersection between violent, crack-epidemic-era New Orleans ghetto life and the uppermost strata of Manhattan’s art gallery world lies at the center of “Missing People.” David Shapiro’s first directorial feature since the very different “Keep the River on Your Right” (2000) offers a tangled tale of mortality, obsession, creativity and acquisition, as well as the […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content