Taxidermy is often a punchline. And you can see why. It’s the process of preserving a dead animal in a way that makes it look alive, and that sits firmly at the intersection of dark and funny — the kind of thing that produces uncomfortable laughter and maybe an eyeroll.
What Stuffed reveals, like any good documentary, is that a lot of taxidermists are in on the joke, and that there’s vastly more to their world than, as Eddie Izzard says, stuffing animals with sand.
Gorgeously shot, the feature-length doc introduces us to a big handful of taxidermists, immediately revealing how varied and strange and cool the industry is. We meet museum curators, abstract artists, big game specialists, a traditional rural hunter, and even a rogue taxidermist who sews together shit like ravens and cats into mythological creatures.
Even from the title, you enter the story thinking that you’re about to laugh at some taxidermists. But within 10 minutes of seeing the tools, skill, and heart that go into each creature, you don’t need any more convincing that it’s an art.
“Wow, the front leg placement really helps the narrative of the baby zebra’s birth,” you’ll hear yourself thinking halfway through the movie, not for a moment remembering that this was supposed to be weird.
Of course, it’s certainly weird. But that’s not at all the point. Overshadowing the weirdness is the art and history of taxidermy and diorama — and the fascinating stories, both of the taxidermists themselves and of their pieces. Just for example, you might not have thought that taxidermy served much of a purpose past displaying hunting trophies or decorating steakhouses. But in truth, it was vital to biologists’ study of animals, and it populates our museums, teaching important lessons about conservation. It’s also been widely used in art and fashion during its history (the entire movie is worth watching for its look at Victorian taxidermy, which is wild).
It would have been easy to make a film that characterizes taxidermists as strange outsiders who revel in bringing corpses back to life. Stuffed doesn’t shy away from the dark side, but it also does the harder job of showing us why taxidermy has endured (beyond chemical preservation) and how taxidermists are just like us: they love creating, they love storytelling, they love connection, they love nature. And they are supremely good at what they do. You’ll leave the movie feeling happier, more knowledgeable, more connected with the world, and kind of wanting to stuff a muskrat with sand.
Accessible through AmazonPrime, view in the spirit of IWFF April 18–25.