DIY Philly filmmaker wins at Sundance

The underdog has brought home a bone.

Jon Foy spent 5 1/2 years making a documentary about a marginal subject. “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles” is part documentary, part surreal fantasy about tiles which for years have been embedded into asphalt of city streets around the country. The author of the tiles is unknown.

In those 5 1/2 years, Foy learned on the fly how to write, shoot, edit, and even compose a music score. Most of those tasks were done in his bedroom in a shared group house in West Philly.

“We’re all starving artists here,” said Foy.

Foy financed the film by cleaning houses. A few months ago he was walking home from a job–his bicycle was broken at the time, and he was pretty broke, too. That’s when he got a call on his cell phone from a programmer at the Sundance Film Festival.

“He said, ‘Jon, I loved your movie. We all loved your movie,'” Foy recalls. “That’s when I felt tears welling up. I couldn’t imagine–no one had ever said they loved the movie. He said, ‘Would you want to play it at Sundance?’ “

Submitting a rough cut to Sundance was a long shot. Winning the U.S. Documentary Competition Director award was an even longer shot, particularly for a first-time filmmaker who acted as his own director, producer, editor, composer, bookeeper, messenger and lawyer.

“Having played in punk bands and run in these circles has prepared me for that,” said Foy, who used to play guitar in the DIY band, Red Devils. “There’s a huge emphasis on immediacy and learning by doing–teaching yourself and finding your own way.”

So far, the film has never been shown in Philadelphia. Now that Foy taught himself to make a film, he has to teach himself how to market it.

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