❉ If World Champion taxidermist Ken Walker can’t find Bigfoot, he’ll make one.
“One of the best aspects of Big Fur is how it showcases something that’s likely to be very foreign to many viewers – the life of a taxidermist. Walker is a multilayered character to be sure, and I’m not sure that a scripted version of this story could ever hit the same textured notes that this finely-etched documentary does.”
Big Fur, which recently made its world premiere at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is an unexpectedly entertaining documentary that merges the very real world of taxidermy with the folkloric realm of Bigfoot, aka Sasquatch, aka Yeti. This playful and often times ruminative piece centres on Ken Walker, a world champion taxidermist living in Alberta, Canada, and whose obsession with crafting the ultimate version of the famed beast stems from his personal sightings and interactions with the big man himself from over the years. Walker’s work has been featured in the Smithsonian Museum and in National Geographic Magazine, so make no mistake about it – he’s the real deal, possessing a talent that few likely could ever attain. And his unique speciality in re-creating extinct and endangered species out of other animals’ hides is wild stuff on multiple levels.
One of the best aspects of Big Fur is how it showcases something that’s likely to be very foreign to many viewers – the life of a taxidermist. This is one of those (taboo?) professions that elicit a very specific response from people, as animal rights and advocacy has become a top priority for many people across the world. So it’s interesting to note the love and care put into his work by Walker, who is also a hunter but at the same time a big proponent of quality of life for animals – he’s a multilayered character to be sure, and I’m not sure that a scripted version of this story could ever hit the same textured notes that this finely-etched documentary does. Director Dan Wayne wisely focuses a good chunk of time showing how Walker’s job has a major impact on his personal life, and how his various relationships have the capacity for sudden change.
And when it comes down to how Wayne interprets the legitimacy of Sasquatch and the various sightings that are described in great detail during the course of this film, well, I’ll leave it up to you to form an opinion in your head after viewing. Regardless of one’s personal belief systems, the idea of Bigfoot has existed on the margins of pop culture for over 100 years, with ancient stories that gave way to a rash of sightings in the 1960s and 1970s (the infamous 1967 Bob Patterson film still looms tall), with Hollywood being oddly slow to exploit the creature for the features, outside of the lovely 1987 family film Harry and the Hendersons, and various B-movie (or below) titles that have put more of an emphasis on gore and death than anything else. If anything, a serious cinematic exploration of this classic monster scenario is very much due from intelligent storytellers.
After premiering at Slamdance, Big Fur was acquired by 1091 Media, who will be handling a digital release at some point in 2020. Wayne is also planning on embarking on a small theatrical release in the United States, stopping in Spokane, Washington and Kansas City, Missouri, while also making some visits north of the border in Canada. Big Fur has also been selected to screen at various natural history and science museums across the United States. Be on the lookout for this absorbing and heartfelt documentary, as it manages to take two fringe subjects and combine them into something very accessible and engaging, no matter what your personal opinions are on the art of stuffing dead animals, and the legend of Bigfoot.
❉ ‘Big Fur’ (2019) Cast: Ken Walker, Jim Walker, Colette Walker, Amy Carter, Antonio Alfaro, Robert Michael Pyle. Director: Dan Wayne. Screenwriter: George Langworthy. Producer: Dan Wayne and Jon Niccum. Cinematographer: Dan Wayne. Editor: George Langworthy, Stephen Deaver and Dan Wayne. Composer: Brad Cox. Runtime: 76 minutes.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.