Beginning in the early 1980s, hundreds of tiles carrying this cryptic message were found embedded in the asphalt of city streets as far apart as New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. Street art? A prank? A message from space?
Filmmaker Jon Foy recounts how young artist Justin Duerr became fascinated with the strange plaques and, with two other “Toynbee tile” enthusiasts, Steve Weinik and Colin Smith, spent years trying to discover what they meant and who made them. The unlikely investigators uncovered increasingly bizarre clues: a newspaper article, a David Mamet play, a Jupiter colonization organization, and a Toynbee message that “hijacked” local news broadcasts.
That the origins of a street tile can be so captivating is testament to both Duerr’s passion and Foy’s filmmaking. Artfully constructed, “Resurrect Dead” thrusts us into the black hole of this fantastic mystery but also reflects on Duerr himself, and the personal connection he develops with finding an answer. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Institute]
“Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”
U.S. Documentary Competition.
Director: Jon Foy
Executive Producer: Doug Block
Producer: Jon Foy, Colin Smith
Editor/Composer: Jon Foy
Researchers: Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik, Colin Smith, Jon Foy
Responses courtesy of “Resurrect Dead” director Jon Foy.
Hollywood in the 1980s and Punk Rock culture…
The seed was planted by those fantastical Hollywood films of my childhood in the 80’s. By age eleven, I had my mind set on going into film, so I was shooting home videos with my friends on the weekends. I spent much of my early adulthood steeped in Punk Rock culture, so that shaped my outlook on art and gave form to those childhood dreams.
It all started with a prank phone call…
Believe it or not, I first met Justin, the protagonist, by prank calling him. The call was directed at his roommate, but Justin mistook it as a breakthrough in the mystery he’d been pursuing. So I introduced myself in order to apologize for the misunderstanding. Right then, as I met him, it just clicked and I told him we’d make this into a movie one day. That was summer 2000. Five years later I dropped out of school and moved back to start filming.
Magical Realism and documentary….
I wanted to make a documentary that had a feeling of magical realism. There’s been a trend of low fi fictional films that present themselves as found footage or with varying degrees of verisimilitude. I thought it’d be interesting to go the opposite way and make a movie that is actually real, but has a feeling of unreality to it.
A film funded by mops and buckets…
I self-funded this film with my wages as a house cleaner, so I had to come up with a lot of creative ways around problems that are usually solved with money. When presented with these types of problems, I’d tell myself I have to “film-make” my way out of them.
A surreal experience…
In the course of filming our movie, we took a road trip about halfway across the country. We listened to a bunch of music from the band Dead Kennedys in the car to pass the time. On the last night of our trip, things worked out that we were able to meet and actually hang out with the band’s legendary singer, Jello Biafra. We got to tell him about our movie too, which was a surreal way to end the trip.
A place where magic and imagination can still exist…
Speaking for myself, it’s gratifying to know that in the information age there are still shadowy crevices of the world where mystery and perplexity can still live. These dark corners of the world are diminishing in number, but it’s where magic and imagination can still exist.
Yet another movie about anthropomorphism, corporate branding and imaginary friends…
I’m fascinated with the ideas of anthropomorphism, corporate branding and imaginary friends, so I am developing a narrative film around those elements. I’ve got a whole slew of ideas, actually, so I’ll be blocking out time to develop several stories and then seeing which one of them jumps out at me.
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]