What’s the worst thing you’ve ever found in a household appliance?

Self-made entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant thought he was buying a meat smoker at an auction, only to open it up and find a dismembered leg. Deciding to make a name for himself and his severed friend, Whisnant props up the limb as a tourist attraction, selling tickets, t-shirts and the like to anyone willing to pay. Finding out that the body part actually belongs to John Wood, who had part of his leg amputated following a plane crash in which his father was killed, Whisnant argues ‘finders keepers,’ maintaining that what he found in the smoker belongs to the purchaser, even offering to work out an ‘arrangement’ with the original owner.

The documentary follows the legal battle, the significant media coverage at the time of the dispute and the personal lives of both protagonists, including John’s dependency on drugs following the plane crash and subsequent recovery. The most arresting aspect of this documentary by far is Whisnant’s very candid and unapologetic treatment of the dispute, asserting his rights as a buyer and using any creative opportunity to make the best out of his unusual fortune.

A very colourful and intriguing character is at the centre of this film, who by chance managed to purchase the limb and provide the wow-factor for a very quirky conflict. Never as interesting as when depicting Whisnant’s sheer gumption, the documentary stretches out a relatively straightforward legal dispute over the course of the film, filling the gaps with the back-stories of each of the men’s lives and a brief exploration of Whisnant’s wider business ventures.

The story itself packs a novelty factor but has limited scope or content for a feature documentary, spending too much time on the ancillary aspects of the whole drama, lingering all too briefly on the most engaging aspect of the whole affair – Whisnant’s utter brazenness.

Finders Keepers is screening at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival, which runs October 13 to 18 in Sydney.

On FilmInk