Stuffed, the new documentary by Erin Derham, offers a surprising and in-depth look at one of the world’s most misunderstood art forms: taxidermy.
Often, when people think of taxidermy, they visualize flea-bitten skins stretched over mangled forms, displayed in third-rate museums or your grandfather’s basement. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, taxidermy is an art form that deserves the same level of respect that other fine arts have been elevated to.
For Stuffed, Derham and her crew traveled the globe to interview some of the most innovative and passionate taxidermists working in the field today.
There’s Los Angeles-based Allis Markham, whose work can be seen in places as diverse as the city’s Natural History Museum and on television’s Bates Motel. This is Hollywood, after all.
Amsterdam’s Jaap Sinke and Ferry van Tongeren practice a uniquely nostalgic form of taxidermy. Modeling their creations on the style of the paintings of the Dutch masters, their work is flamboyantly alive.
Travis C. De Villiers is an anatomical sculptor and taxidermist based in South Africa. His love of animals and insistence on hyper-realism make his work some of the most striking in the world.
Daniel Meng, the youngest of the film’s interview subjects, was born in Switzerland but makes his home in North Dakota. He is a passionate conservationist and hunter, which may seem at odds, but he explains how the two interests can work together. Life and death equally play essential roles in the ecosystem.
What’s most surprising about all of these people is the love of nature that impels them to do what they do. They don’t have an unnatural fascination with the dead. They endeavor to preserve these creatures at their most alive — and most beautiful.
Stuffed is gorgeously shot by Jan Balster, enhanced by composer Ben Lovett’s splendid score. In fact, the most affecting moments in the film occur when Balster’s camera wordlessly circles these works of art, accompanied by Lovett’s music.
At a post-screening Q&A, Ms. Derham admitted that her original feeling about the subject of taxidermy was one of disgust. But when she met these people and realized how deeply felt their passions are, she became a convert.
When you see Stuffed, you’ll become a convert, too.
Stuffed was reviewed at SXSW on Mar. 11, 2019, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, TX.