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Slamdance: Big Fur

by Ally Russell

Big Fur chronicles World Champion Taxidermist Ken Walker’s attempt to build a believable Bigfoot replica—specifically the “Patty” from the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film, which shocked viewers back in 1967 when it showed an unidentified bipedal hominid walking along a riverbank in northern California. Home videos and interviews with Ken’s family, friends, and colleagues give viewers an intimate look at his personal life and beliefs, all while he builds his monstrous masterpiece in the background.

Director and producer Dan Wayne became interested in the subject of taxidermy because of its unique blend of art and science. It wasn’t until Dan met former Roy Orbison impersonator turned Bigfoot believer and Taxidermist Ken Walker that he decided to film a documentary to shine a spotlight on an underappreciated art form and its misunderstood artists. Not only did he spend five years researching, camping in the secluded wilderness, and filming Ken as he built Patty, but Dan also began practicing taxidermy. Big Fur is Dan’s first feature documentary, and it was made in collaboration with producer and award-winning writer and filmmaker Jon Niccum, and writer and editor George Langworthy, producer and director of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees (2009)—a project on which Dan also collaborated.

Ken Walker creates a life-sized Bigfoot in the feature documentary Big Fur. – Photo Courtesy Millennial PR
Ken Walker stands next to a tree structure, possibly built by Bigfoot, in the feature documentary Big Fur. – Photo Courtesy Millennial PR

For those looking for an intimate and educational look at the art and science of taxidermy, Big Fur covers the subject with extreme care and attention to detail. Skeptics beware—you’ll find no Bigfoot mockery in this documentary. Considering that the main subject of the film believes in Bigfoot (so fervently that he keeps not one but TWO bags of alleged sasquatch scat in his freezer), it was a bit of a disappointment that Ken never shared his encounters on screen. Its creators describe the film as a “comical portrait of an eccentric artist-hero.” Sure, there are funny moments—like Ken singing Hello! Ma Baby! while stomping around his workshop with two Styrofoam sasquatch legs—but other moments, like the revelation of a very questionable personal relationship with another subject featured in the film, feel tacked on and detract from the focus of the main storyline. Watching Ken build his rendition of Patty is certainly enjoyable, but the task lacks tension. Ken alludes to hurdles, but viewers don’t get to witness those hairy moments. Perhaps Big Fur’s most important subplot is its insightful commentary from author and naturalist Robert Pyle and retired outfitter and activist Mike Judd as they call for hunters and environmentalist to collaborate because of their mutual goal of preserving and protecting the wilderness from industry. Overall, Big Fur may lack tension and focus as it nears its conclusion, but the film is still a worthwhile watch for those with a healthy interest in taxidermy and cryptozoology.

A quiet and thoughtful film that heralds the importance of environmentalism, art… and Bigfoot. An enjoyable watch for Bigfoot believers, taxidermy enthusiasts, and environmentalists.

About the reviewer: Ally Russell occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE, and she hosts the FlashFrights podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works at an independent children’s publisher. She enjoys talking about cryptids in her free time. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Big Fur is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival as part of their Documentary Features series. Learn more about this film by visiting the official website.