SXSW 2019: Stuffed

Allis Markham works on a Superb Starling at Prey Taxidermy in Los Angeles, California. Photo Credit: Jan Balster

Stuffed takes us across the globe and into the world of taxidermy by focusing on the art of a select few taxidermists in this stunning documentary.

When I think of taxidermy, I tend to think of dead animals that have been stuffed for one reason or another.  At least, this is what I’ve always thought but this is a film that manages to prove me wrong.  It would not be the first documentary nor the last to do so.  Through this documentary, filmmaker Erin Derham shows that these are just stereotypes and there’s more to taxidermy.  Moreover, what makes Derham such an interesting choice is that the filmmaker is a vegetarian.  One doesn’t necessarily think of vegetarians when it comes to making a taxidermy film.  If anything, such a film would likely turn someone into a vegetarian!  I digress.

One thing that struck me was a comment from South African-based sculptor Travis C. De Villiers.  De Villiers believes that taxidermy is a “combo of being an artist and being a naturalist.”  There’s a special bond that he makes with the animals by viewing them in a different light.  He finds this study of nature to be satisfying.  His personal preference when it comes to taxidermy are the big cats.

Prey Taxidermy owner Allis Markham is a taxidermist that works regularly with Los Angeles-based institutions.  Her all-female studio is really taking the art of taxidermy to a new level.  Markham’s work is one that places a lot of value into the intricate design work when it comes to these animals.  The documentary mostly focuses on her work with birds.

According to the film, there is quite the resurgence of Victorian era taxidermy.  The Victorian era was when such fashion ideas became mainstream because Queen Victoria wore feathers during this era.  Unfortunately, many species became extinct because of collecting haberdashery or pins in the 1800s.

De Villiers and Markham are only a few of the taxidermists that Derham profiles in this documentary.  There are many others as we get a look at this world in under 90 minutes.  It’s not a ground-breaking film in any way but manages to shed light on stereotypes.  It’s a very informative documentary in this regard.  Going into the film, I might have told you that taxidermy was nothing but stuffed dead animals.  I could not have been more wrong.  There’s a whole lot of passionate artwork when it comes to this field.  It’s not even just that.  These are artists who have to have a working knowledge when it comes to biology and other relevant information.  I could not be happier to have been proven wrong about what I knew.

Stuffed is going to be a film that is certain hit or miss for viewers.  It really depends if this is your cup of tea.

DIRECTOR:  Erin Derham
FEATURING:  Allis Markham, Jaap Sinke, Ferry Van Tongeren, Travis C. De Villiers, Daniel Meng

Stuffed holds its world premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Documentary Feature Competition. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.