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SXSW 2019: “Stuffed” Review

When you hear the word taxidermy, a few things probably come to mind. Maybe you’re thinking, “ew, gross” or “who would do that” or maybe you just don’t really know what to think. For those of you who fall into all three mindsets, “Stuffed” is for you and everyone. It’s honestly one of my favorite documentaries that I’ve screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

“Stuffed” is directed and produced by Erin Derham, and is a beautiful and informative documentary film that breaks the stereotypes of such a misunderstood field: taxidermy.

It’s hard to believe that this is the first feature documentary film for Derham, whose previous directing work includes several shorts, “Blue Air,” “Julian Price,” “Walk into History” and “Buskin’ Blues.” It would be really easy to get a film about taxidermy terribly wrong, but Derham handles the subject and subjects of this film with great care.

“Stuffed” is told through the eyes and hands of acclaimed artists from across the world, where sculptors must also be scientists. The documentary follows Allis Markham, Travis de Villiers, Jerry Van Tongeren, Jaap Sinke, Daniel Meng, Timothy Bovard, George Dante, Wendy Christensen, Ken Walker and a few more.

Stuffed

What’s fascinating about “Stuffed” is how much it dives into the subcultures of taxidermy. If you’re thinking, ‘There are subcultures to taxidermy?’ you’re not alone. I was in awe throughout the documentary, following the different characters that make up the field of taxidermy from all over the world. “Stuffed” manages to provide a comprehensive look into this world we have never seen before, but only imagined. Instead of focusing solely on the process of taxidermy, Derham captures the passion that these taxidermists have for the world around them with stunning shots and low angles.

From conservation to promoting science in museums, taxidermists have been part of our world, and we might not have even been aware of their lasting impact. I love visiting museums and seeing all the animal exhibits. Now I know and appreciate the work that goes into that for our amusement and wonder. We learn the importance of taxidermy in conservation efforts. Did you get to see the last Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, before the extinction of his species? Probably not. But guess what? Because of taxidermy, Lonesome George has been preserved.

Why does “Stuffed” work so well? Well, there’s the direction by Derham, who never lets you feel like you’re watching a documentary. This leads you to be enthralled with the subjects because you’re just hanging out with them in their studios, art galleries, museums and even the California Association of Taxidermists Show and Competition. Yes, there are world-renowned taxidermists!

Stuffed

Feature documentaries are having a moment right now, and “Stuffed” is adding to the collection of beautifully and visually stunning films out there. And not only that, but also insightful storytelling. You may come into this film with a lot of biases toward taxidermists, but I’d be hard-pressed to find out if you don’t change your mind at the end of this film. And maybe even shed some tears.

Who knew I’d fall in love with taxidermists on screen and appreciate all that they do for the world of art, conservation and preserving the beauty of nature all around us.

You can catch “Stuffed” at SXSW at the following times and location:

Thursday, March 14, 2019
8:45pm —10:10pm
Alamo Lamar B

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