Missing People Documentary


Now and then, we are consumed by a certain sort of mystery. We get faced with a situation that we don’t fully understand, and we become obsessed with the gaps in the narrative. It’s like an empty space on our bookshelf, or a piece missing from the puzzle box. Life could go on, but it never feels complete.

Sometimes that feeling just cannot be shaken.

MISSING PEOPLE is a portrait of Martina Batan. Despite being a successful art gallery director, she lives her days – and especially her nights – affected by the death of her youngest brother over 35 years ago. The film follows a renewed quest for answers for his surviving sister. However, the detective work soon takes a back seat as Martina decides to chase down information on a little-known visual artist she adores. After collecting scores and scores of pieces by a painter named Roy Ferdinand, Martina decides to go on a quest to learn more about the lesser-known New Orleans artist.

Where that quest takes Martina leaves both her and us deeply touched.

MISSING PEOPLE is a documentary populated by ghosts. There are the glimpses of Ferdinand from interviews he gave before he died. There are mentions of places and spaces that used to dot New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina came through and upended the entire city. But most of all, there’s Martina…who she is now, and who she used to be. We see glimmers of who she was in college: an off-kilter, but enthusiastic, artistic soul. What undeniably comes through in these glimmers is just how full of life she was. As we follow her around in her quest for peace, we can’t help but feel as though she too has died a little. The “off-kilter, but enthusiastic” is gone, and the woman who drifts about now is her ghost stuck here on Earth.

More than anything, what stays with us after MISSING PEOPLE isn’t who it’s about so much as it what it is about. This film is about loss – profound loss that leaves a hole in our spiritual selves. Every moment, action, or situation that’s ever been deconstructed often comes back to one point…one key moment when everything turned. What if in some people’s lives there’s no “point”, but instead a person…one key person who means more to us than we understand, and whose disappearance shapes us forever?

That’s the heartbreaking point of this film, and the clever play on words its title represents. “Missing persons” is the sort of thing that happens all the time, but when we find ourselves “missing people”, we get trapped in a singular moment that may never actually end.


MISSING PEOPLE plays at Hot Docs 2015 tomorrow, Friday April 24th – 7pm at Scotiabank Theatre. It plays again at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday April 25th – 11:30am, and finally at Hart House on Friday May 1st – 9:15pm (official website)