2011 Sundance Docs in Focus: RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES

Next up in my 2011 Sundance doc line-up overview is Jon Foy’s US Documentary Competition title RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES, an investigation into a literally street-level unsolved mystery going back more than twenty years.

Sundance Program Description:

Toynbee Idea
in Movie 2001.
Resurrect Dead
on Planet Jupiter.


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.

Some Background:
Doug Block (51 BIRCH STREET, THE KIDS GROW UP) provides a great account of how he became the film’s Executive Producer, noting that, after facing numerous festival rejections, Foy had all but given up on RESURRECT DEAD, despite working on it for half a decade, until he got the call that it was Sundance bound.

Why You Should Watch:
Foy’s story is that of the classic underdog, true independent first-time filmmaker who made significant personal sacrifices to get his unusual film made, handling all aspects of the production largely on his own as a kind of one-man-band. Without overly psychologizing, one is tempted to identify Foy with his main protagonist, Justin Duerr, as they both chose to live on the fringe and to pursue their respective obsessions. RESURRECT DEAD presents not only the search for answers about the cryptic Toynbee tiles, but also explores our sometimes obsessive need to solve mysteries, and how far we’re willing to go to connect the dots.

Screening Info:
For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph above. The film also has a website which I imagine should eventually be updated with more information and additional festival or screening engagements elsewhere.

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1 Comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

One response to “2011 Sundance Docs in Focus: RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES

  1. Hi
    We, Philadelphia Independent Film and Video Association, PIFVA gave Jon Foy two grants to finish his film, the latest payment was yesterday.
    We are thrilled of his selection to Sundance, as we have been supporting him for the past several years, once he moved into post-production. A great day for Philadelphia filmmaking and independent film.

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