Somewhere on the forested northern tip of Mud Island, there is a battered, yellow canoe covered with handwritten notes and lying in a thick patch of poison ivy. Just a few yards away, the bluff drops off steeply into the river. The nobody who owned the canoe camped here until a hard storm blew his makeshift tent into the water below.
The unfortunate river rat's name was Jerry, the subject of Nobody, a visually poetic documentary by first-time filmmakers Alan Spearman and Lance Murphy, both employed by The Commercial Appeal. In 2006, Nobody won Indie Memphis' Hometowner Award for best documentary film. More recently, it was selected for the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, widely considered America's premiere festival for documentary filmmaking.
"This really is as good as we could have hoped for," Spearman says, noting that this is the most prestigious festival selection for a first-time filmmaker from Memphis. Although Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow triumph at Sundance is now part of industry lore, Brewer made his first splash outside of Memphis with his film The Poor & Hungry, winning best digital feature at the strategically located but seldom heralded Hollywood Film Festival.
Although Spearman and Murphy's film is gaining attention, its subject is still missing. The last anyone saw of Jerry were the shots Spearman took as he paddled his new canoe into the Mississippi, heading toward the Gulf. Fears that Jerry might have died in Hurricane Katrina were allayed when the affable vagabond left messages on his sister's answering machine. But nobody knows the whereabouts of the man who tried to outrun his personal tragedies by devoting his life to the river.
"I think we've always kind of hoped that the movie would find him," Spearman says. "Maybe he did what he said he wanted to do and went all the way down to Florida. Nobody is showing in Key West and Ft. Lauderdale."
Nobody will also screen at the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis on Thursday, April 12th at 7 p.m. as part of the Emerging Pictures/Full Frame Digital Extension, which programs notable Full Frame documentaries in venues all around the country.
"There's a digital participation award connected to the [satellite] festival," Spearman says. "So it would be really good to get a lot of people to come out, see the film, and vote for the home team."