Check Out the Animal-Trophy Documentary ‘Stuffed’
Did you know there’s a world of competitive taxidermy? It’s out there. Stuffed, a love letter of a documentary, explains the craft to those of us who thought it was nothing more than grabbing roadkill and putting jellybeans inside.
STUFFED ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Erin Derham
Running time: 84 min
Chronicling the careers of a few of taxidermy’s bright young stars, this documentary illustrates that the art form attracts remarkable talent from all walks of life, while resolutely combating the stigma of creepiness around it. It changed my whole outlook on the practice.
Stuffed succeeds because of its characters. Apparently, taxidermy attracts fascinating eccentrics. The movie features interviews with Allis Markham of Los Angeles’ award-winning studio Prey Taxidermy and Jay Kirk, who literally wrote the book on the father of modern taxidermy, Carl Akeley. Upstarts like world class mammalian taxidermist Travis C. De Villiers from South Africa and leopard-focused prodigy Daniel Meng of North Dakota also feature prominently.
Each of the subjects, in their own way, comes across as charming and knowledgeable. They repeatedly reinforce the idea that, at its core, taxidermy centers on the representation of life rather than the preservation of death. It turns out the prerequisites for excelling at taxidermy involve both artistry and science. Accuracy of anatomical representation matters. So does capturing the living essence of an animal. Learning about how those two principles come together impressed me in ways I never thought sculptures of dead animals could.
Director Erin Derham approaches the topic from every angle necessary to present it in both an entertaining and informative way, without making it feel like the dreaded infotainment. She gives us a history lesson on technological advancements and the evolution of the career path over the years, while also addressing potential controversies around hunting and preservation. We see an honest and introspective exploration of the community and cultural dynamics, highlighting women like Markham who are making names for themselves in what used to be a boys’ club.
Derham frames stunning and empathetic visual displays of her subjects’ work, capturing entirely objective imagery of the final sculptures or in-progress posing of limbs and plumage. She doesn’t miss an opportunity to show us the splendor. Extreme close-ups of fur and shiny fake eyes give way to wide trophy shots of hummingbirds, leopards and a breathtaking baby zebra. You can see with your own eyes that these artisans are right. Taxidermy celebrates life.
None of us asked for a crash course on taxidermy, but few documentaries these days have the competency and command to give dimension to a seemingly nonstarter topic the way Stuffed does. Give this one a chance when it gets released.