Allis Markham of Prey Taxidermy in Los Angeles
Allis Markham of Prey Taxidermy in Los Angeles working on a subject.

This is one of those documentaries where you don’t think you’re that interested in the subject matter, and maybe the whole thing seems sort of morbid, but then it ends up being really fascinating and you learn about things that you never even knew existed. Witnessing the dedication of the artists and the broad range of people who are drawn to the craft of taxidermy is what makes Stuffed a great watch.

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It’s definitely not (only) a bunch of guys dressed in camo who shoot animals and are trying to figure out what to do with them. There are people working for natural history museums, artists making still-lifes that include real birds and animals, and avant-garde creators producing creature hybrids or internal organ taxidermy.

People have different reasons for doing taxidermy, but all seem to be invested in the planning and execution of a project. It is very labor-intensive and detailed work, with many, many hours devoted to each subject. They are not only precisely re-creating the animal, but also trying to breathe a sort of life back into it. They must consider every muscle, every tooth, every turn of fur or feather.

For these enthusiasts, taxidermy seems to fall somewhere between a hobby and an addiction. One guy notes: “You have to be nuts, and not just because you are playing with dead things.” It's a science and an art, each piece telling a story about nature. The practitioners believe that even after death, these animals can continue to connect people to the natural world, and it would be a waste to just throw them away.

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I’m a big animal lover, so I was somewhat concerned about watching people skinning carcasses or working with dead creatures. But Stuffed isn’t particularly gruesome. And as the people in the film keep insisting, taxidermists really love animals.

Stuffed screens this Sunday and Monday, May 26-27, at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival. Director Erin Derham is scheduled to attend both screenings. Further details here. Check out The Stranger's complete SIFF guide here.