If you’ve seen The Monuments Men, then you’re somewhat familiar with The Liberators, the new doc that premieres at SXSW about stolen religious art from WWII that reappeared in Whitewright, TX.
During WWII, Joe Tom Meador sent home illuminated manuscripts and reliquaries from a cathedral in Quedlinburg, Germany. Years later, Willi Korte was put in charge of finding lost and stolen art and returning the pieces to their rightful homes. His search for the Quedlinburg Treasures lead him to Texas and Joe Tom’s unassuming heirs, who regard(ed) these treasures as nothing more than beautiful souvenirs, never questioning their worth (estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars). The two sides collided in a legal battle, with one side trying to preserve a rich cultural heritage and the other, essentially, claiming “finders’ keepers.”
The Liberators raises interesting questions about our understanding of cultural and religious artifacts, the hold they have on us, and who owns them. The doc benefits from some strong “characters,” specifically Joe Tom’s descendants and the other residents of Whitewright, who all feel as if they are extras on another hilarious, true crime story set in Texas, Richard Linklater’s Bernie.
As the film progresses, it reveals Joe Tom to be a complicated figure that demands further cinematic treatment, perhaps from Linklater himself! Joe Tom used these items to hit on other men: “Come on back to my place to look at my jewels.” As such, the film is also a slight commentary on sexuality and difference in Texas (and much of the rural south).