Perhaps like a stereotype, there's some kernel of truth to every urban legend. Cropsey explores the intersection of a popular myth and an unnerving true crime story. The name Cropsey refers to an insane man who lives in the woods and snatches children, a folk tale chronically repeated and embellished. It plays on leering and crude paranoia about mental illness and urban decay. Filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio grew up on Staten Island, which had an abundance of both. They make the point that New York's least known borough was a dumping ground both for city garbage, at the Fresh Kills landfill, and mentally ill, at the Willowbrook State School. The massive institution was an abysmally run warehouse of neglect and misery, exposed on TV by a young Geraldo Rivera and shuttered in 1987.
Fact and fiction met somewhere in the woods surrounding Willowbrook, where Andre Rand, who had worked inside, sometimes lived. Rand himself had suffered from mental illness, and he was a suspect in the disappearance of several children in the 1980s. He was convicted of kidnapping but not murdering 7-year-old Jennifer Schweiger, meaning he would eventually be released from jail. There was no solid evidence connecting him to the murder, though police and volunteers combed the woods and tunnels around the facility for years. Some people interviewed in the film suspect there were others involved, or that Rand was a kidnapper working on someone else's behalf. And she was just one of the missing children. The movie is driven by the filmmakers' attempts to get Rand to tell his side of the story from jail, and they maintain a frequent correspondence with him. One wants to hear anything that would help resolve the unanswered questions, and it is a gripping true horror tale.
Much of the discussion of Rand's case and the missing children comes via narration over images of the dilapidated and vandalized Willowbrook institution, with slow pans over rusted gurneys and junk left in the woods, easily feeding any rush to judgement or fear of the dark you wish to entertain. The discussion of cults and satanic activity also comes with unsubstantiated rumors and charges by people who don't want to be photographed. It's easy to see how the legend of Cropsey is perpetuated and how fragile the community can seem, even with Rand in jail. The hype about him may be unfair, but no one can comfortably believe this is the end of Cropsey. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
9 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net