Finders Keepers is as delightful as it is bizarre. It is the story of an amputated left foot and the two men who fought over it from 2008 to 2014. Some things you just have to see to believe.
In 2004, John Wood lost his foot when his father—a prop plane pilot—crashed, killing himself and injuring his son. Wood survived, but his left leg was so damaged in the crash that doctors amputated his leg from the knee down. When Wood found out that hospitals incinerate amputated body parts, he claimed religious reasons and recovered the severed foot, mummifying it for posterity.
Due to complications from the crash and the mental anguish of losing his father, Wood fell into drug addiction and made a series of poor choices. With no home and no place to store the foot, Wood tucked it inside a BBQ smoker and stored the smoker in a rented storage locker. With no capital to maintain the rental, the locker went up for auction, as did the foot in the smoker inside.
Enter Shannon Whisnant, a larger-than-life character who makes his living trading on his gregarious personality and secondhand goods. Whisnant purchased Wood’s discarded locker at auction and was shocked to find what it held. After getting over his initial disgust with the mummified food, and the cholesterol—a word Whisnant relishes with every syllable—it leaked, Whisnant sought to capitalize on the find, charging adults $3 and children $1 to peek inside the smoker. It made local news, and Whisnant, who always dreamed of being on TV, became a local celebrity.
Wood, still in the throes of addiction, took to the media to recover his foot, and their feud made national and international news, even intersecting with the world of reality TV in a manner that directors Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel use to uncover the core truths. Wood didn’t just lose his foot in that crash, but his father. If holding on to that foot is a way of holding on to Dad, then hell or high water won’t come between them.
Whisnant, the product of an abusive home, learned at an early age that being funny could get him out of many a jam. Whisnant uses that well-honed humor to further himself and his career, but when TV producers start using that humor against him, Whisnant quickly sours. Up to that point, Whisnant couldn’t see he wasn’t just making the jokes but was the subject of them as well.
Carberry and Tweel maintain a respectable distance, letting the subjects speak for themselves, often giving them enough rope. And the battle over the foot is merely one aspect of Wood and Whisnant’s feud. The idea of possession and property is another. What rings most true in Finders Keepers is an echo of Andy Warhol’s often misquoted line: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But as Finders Keepers suggests, maybe not for reasons of their choosing.
Finders Keepers (2015)
Directed by Bryan Carberry, Clay Tweel
Produced by Bryan Carberry, Ed Cunningham, Adam Gibbs, Seth Gordon
Starring: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant
The Orchard, Rated R, Running time 82 minutes, Premiered Jan. 27, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival.