SIFF 2019 Review: ‘Stuffed’

Grade: A

As a lover of animals, I chose to see documentaries at the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) such as Kifaru, about Sudan, the last northern white rhino, and The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, about Anne Innis Dagg.  I never considered seeing a documentary about taxidermists, the theme of Stuffed, until a friend said “you just must see it.” 

My view of taxidermists until now was to see them as enablers of trophy hunters with their barbaric propensity of mounting decapitated heads on their walls.  A young taxidermist in this film Jordan Hackle’s quote summed it up: 

“You go into a bar and pick up a girl, and then you tell her you’re a taxidermist.  You get some weird reactions from ‘You do taxes?’ to ‘That’s really creepy!’  Or you get the ones that lie ‘Oh no, that’s not creepy at all’ and then in the back of their minds: ‘This guy could be Ted Bundy!’”

Stuffedaltered my perspective.  One person said “Taxidermists do what they do not because they see death, but they do what they do because they see life.” 

During the film, we meet a variety of people in the field like Timothy Bovard of the LA County Natural History Museum and Wendy Christensen at the Milwaukee Public Museum who create those awesome life-like dioramas.  Allis Markham, who studied under Bovard, creates art with birds as her centerpieces.  Ferry Von Tongeren and Jaap Sinke in the Netherlands find inspiration in 17th century paintings of animals, and combine their creatures with antiques to make unique pieces of art. South African Travis de Villiers seems typical of many people in the field: he wants to combine his love of animals and his scientific zoological knowledge with craftmanship and artistry. 

I was astonished at the skills needed to do taxidermy well: drawing, sculpting, woodworking, mold-making, as well as the knowledge needed to cure skins of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.  There are even those who, rather than use parts of a real animal, recreate animal figures with other materials. 

The photography is absolutely fantastic in this documentary and the people we meet are so interesting.  I highly recommend this film.

This movie was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF).

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: SIFF