NZIFF 51: Stuffed, Directed by Erin Derham

An eclectic and eccentric cast stuff this gorgeous doco that showcases the artistic endeavour and love for animal life these dealers in death have. Clayton Barnett reviews Stuffed.

Director Erin Derham has travelled the world to find some truly unique and passionate characters from the USA to South Africa and the Netherlands. With a hand as caring as these artists she distils their love of animals in this misunderstood field.

At the start of the movie one of them points out they don’t practice taxidermy because they love death, they do it because they love life. It’s an engrossing watch seeing them go through a painstaking process to bring these animals back to life.

What’s great about this documentary is we get a real taste of the diverse taxidermy tangents these artists explore. We have American museum trained taxidermists like Bettie-Page lookalike Allis Markham and young-gun cowboy Daniel Meng, who strive to capture the animal’s real-life essence.

Markham is one of the stars of the doco, a leading female figure who has dragged the discipline into the mainstream with magazine covers and Hollywood clients.

Then you have the likes of Dutch pair Jaap Sinke and Ferry van Tongeren who transform nature’s story into stunning ‘fairy tales’. This quirky pair, like most of the doco’s subjects only work with ethically sourced animals, love breaking classical taxidermy rules.

The duo’s scarlet ibis striking a ballerina’s pose graces the film’s poster and their stunning creations are one of the highlights of the film. Their work has been so popular artist Damien Hirst bought their entire 2015 collection.

Derham takes us on a deep dive here, touching upon rogue and anthropomorphic taxidermy – you’ll just have to see it to believe it – and traces its origins to the father of modern taxidermy Carl Akeley. His groundbreaking work can still be seen to this day at the American Museum of Natural History.

Cinematographer Jan Balster makes this documentation of an art form into a piece of art himself. He gorgeously shoots the process and the final beautiful creations; even sanding a mould there is dust beautifully floating in shafts of light.

This tight knit community is just one big family of misfits, from a once guarded vocation to a supportive group that shares ideas at the many conventions and award shows. At the forefront of this once patriarchal field are some talented women taking it into the next century.

Get tickets here: