Thursday, August 07, 2014
"Cropsey": a mystery documentary, inspired by "Blair", looks at Andre Rand and child abductions in Staten Island over years
“Cropsey” is a 2009 documentary by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, brief (84 min), examining the “urban legend” of a bogeyman child abductor on Staten Island. The film starts out as if it were going to be a “fact or fiction” or even “found footage” type of film in the “Blair Witch” vein, before it settles into a documentary of the prosecution and conviction of Andre Rand (Frank Rushan)
The early part of the film focuses on the character of Staten Island (Richmond), the least populated borough and southernmost part of New York City and even New York State. It used to be very rural, and was a viewed as a “dumping ground”. I think residents would resent that characterization. There is a woody area and closed down mental hospital in the center of the Island that is a source of urban legends of mean child snatchers. After the film was made, Staten Island was hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012.
The documentary quickly mentions young reporter Geraldo Rivera’s coverage of the Willowbrook state school on State Island in 1972. This all happened about the time I had moved from DC to New Jersey to start working for Univac, and I recall the TV coverage. Later, Rivera would cover the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and I recall corresponding with him about it by letter and getting a postcard back. The film reproduces shocking footage from the inside of Willowbrook.
Later it uses reports by David Novarro. The film often uses shots that recall the much bigger film "Shutter Island".
The film traces the long-winded cases of Jennifer Schweiger, and then of Holly Ann Hughes, as well of many others for whom there was insufficient evidence. Rand would play games with the filmmakers about given interviews from jail (Riker’s Island and then Sing Sing). The filmmakers travel to Pennsylvania to interview a minister who sheltered Rand for a while.
Rand’s motives, beyond simply sexual, seemed to have been related to an ideology in which he believed he was purging the world of “imperfect” children who weren’t “wanted” (including one with Down’s Syndrome). The film is quite poker-faced in depicting this “eugenics” idea. It also mentions a satanic cult, the Church of the Process. I recall hearing about this from a friend when living in New York City, sometime around 1978, but I had thought it was on Long Island rather than Staten Island. It also mentions another big asylum, Pilgrim, where Rand’s mother had been kept.
The official site is here. The film, shown at Tribeca, produced by “Antidote” and “Ghost Robot” has been distributed by Cinema Purgatorio and Breaking Glass.
Pictures: My visit to Staten Island, March 2013.