Documentary subjects are seldom this mysterious. Independent filmmaker Jon Foy walks out of his Philadelphia subway stop and notices a tile embedded in the street. Its bold red letters contain a cryptic message: "Toynbee Idea in Movie 2001. Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter" and Foy realizes that it's not just any tile. In fact, Foy soon learns that there are hundreds of these "Toynbee Tiles" containing the same strange message all across Philadelphia, and in neighboring U.S. cities, and then across the globe. With the help of researchers Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik and Colin Smith, Foy sets out to find the person responsible for the "Toynbee Tiles" and the result is this fascinating and wonderfully quirky debut feature documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles from Land of the Missing Parts Productions. Recently debuting in U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Foy builds Resurrect Dead like a mystery with he and his team working as cultural detectives in search of the artist behind the "Toynbee Tiles." What Foy and his team discover is unbelievable. More importantly, their adventures will prove popular with street art buffs as well as documentary fans making Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles a solid acquisition for specialty distributors committed to documentaries.
Foy is a mostly self-taught director, cinematographer and editor, which makes his solid directing debut all the more impressive. He has strong command of his subject and maintains a steady pace as he gathers various clues to help pinpoint the man or woman responsible for the "Toynbee Tiles," as well as offering theories about the meaning of this massive street art undertaking.
Much of Resurrect Dead follows traditional documentary formula, with Foy operating a handheld camera for head-and-shoulders interviews and reporting from location like neighborhoods in South Philadelphia and a short-wave radio convention, where the participants might know something about the "Toynbee Tiles" artist.
Foy even provides a dreamlike soundtrack for the film, one that matches his quirky subject perfectly.
Void of elaborate aerial footage, elaborate graphics or the type of controversial, socio-political topic that generates headlines and claims an immediate community of supporters, Foy simply relies upon good storytelling and engaging subjects, especially artist Justin Duerr who helps lead the investigation to the find the creator of the "Toynbee Tiles."
Compared to many of the other non-fiction films in the U.S. Documentary Competition section at this year's Sundance, Resurrect Dead often comes off as somewhat homespun. Yet, Foy also uses his matter-of-fact camerawork and simple staging to his dramatic advantage.
As much as Resurrect Dead is about the artist behind the "Toynbee Tiles," Foy emphasizes the strange and unforgettable journey he shares with his fellow "Toynbee" detectives as they inch closer and closer to pulling back the curtain on this art mystery once and for all.
Foy's leaves audiences appropriately wowed by all that they've experienced in the film; impressed by the detective work and still hungry for more. He and his team solve a good deal of the "Toynbee" mystery but wisely leave some things unsolved in order to keep the myth alive.
Foy, who also won the U.S. Documentary Competition Directing Award at Sundance, makes the most artful and persuasive introduction to North American arthouse audiences with Resurrect Dead. A subject like the "Toynbee Tiles" only comes along once in a lifetime but if anything else Foy proves himself to be an expert at finding great stories to tell.
Distributor: Argot Pictures
Cast: Justin Duerr and Steve Weinik
Director: Jon Foy
Producers: John Foy and Colin Smith
Running time: 85 min
Release date: September 2 NY