DOC NYC 2015: Missing People
A documentary that unfurls itself in unexpected directions, David Shapiro’s Missing People starts out as a portrait of two different artists before turning into a mystery and, eventually, a meditation on grief and loss. Shapiro follows Martina Bratan, the eccentric director of an art gallery in New York, who has suffered from insomnia ever since her 14-year-old brother was murdered in the ‘70s. One of her obsessions is collecting the work of Roy Ferdinand, an artist from New Orleans whose paintings inspire Bratan to try and have them donated to a major museum. Travelling from New York to New Orleans, Bratan meets the late Ferdinand’s sisters (he died in 2004) and the meeting inspires her to go back and confront her brother’s grisly death. Hiring a private investigator, Bratan tries to find some closure over her brother, whose case is still unsolved.
Bratan is a captivating figure, and the structure of Shapiro’s film is intriguing in the way it branches out to include Ferdinand’s life before going back inwards to focus on Bratan. But Missing People feels somewhat light in its approach, with Shapiro leaning heavily on his documentary’s narrative rather than delving more into Bratan or the ideas and themes that arise from the subject matter. The involvement of Ferdinand, his work and family also feel a little slight at times, their purpose and involvement feeling like little more than a catalyst for Bratan’s own story. Missing People may disappoint in how little it delves beyond its compelling surface, but Shapiro’s film is still admirable in how much it pulls from Bratan’s experiences.