Interview: 'Fursonas' documentary director Dominic Rodriguez (Video the Wolf)
I wanted to talk to people who are passionate. That was a good line to draw: if you’re going to go so far as to make or buy a costume, you’re passionate about furry. When I asked the people in the film if you consider furry a lifestyle, half of them said no.
JS: Other than the badges of the furries interviewed, there’s no furry art in the film. Do you think you should’ve included some art?
DR: The thing I knew when I went into this is everybody has a different way of experiencing and appreciating furry. There’s no way to please everybody or to accurately do justice to everything unless the movie was six hours. I had to be selfish and focus on what really mattered to me which is furry as an identity and as a community. I love art and you can show footage of people drawing; but I wanted to do something different, something I cared about. I wasn’t going to spend four years on something I didn’t care about.
When people say furry isn’t a lifestyle I understand that, but when they say it’s just a hobby I think they’re almost giving it a disservice. There’s so much wrapped up in it, and I think people in it take it seriously. I don’t want people to think [the fandom is] just freaks obviously, but it was important people cared about what they were talking about.
JS: That’s what concerned me. The film seemed to be about people who either want to make the fandom fun or just a hobby vs. people who expressed their sexuality through it. It like an either/or situation. The couple [Chew Fox and Tom Cat] who were on The Tyra Banks Show seemed deliberately provocative, thumbing their noses and proud of upsetting a lot of furries.
DR: I don’t think they knew what they were getting into. I don’t think Chew Fox went into that show trying to upset people. From talking to Chew at length (and I consider her a friend) what matters to her and to Boomer [the furry who was mocked on Dr. Phil for wanting to be a dog] is expressing themselves and being real. That is what the documentary boils down to: “why are you doing this? Are you doing it for yourself, you want to express yourself, or are you doing it to be accepted into this community?”
Obviously there are a million shades of grey in-between, but that’s what mattered to Chew Fox. I don’t think for a minute she was trying to upset people, I just think she didn’t give a shit when she did, it was more important for her just to be her.
JS: When I tell people I’m a fur and I get that standard “you people dress up as animals and have sex,” I have to go out of my way and explain that’s a minority interest.
DR: What I want to do with Fursonas is get people to accept maybe what they wouldn’t otherwise, and I want to do it in a way that’s non-exploitative and I want to be humanistic about it.
I think if you throw around words like “that’s just a minority blah blah blah,” that’s a defensive attitude that steps on a lot of peoples’ identities, the people who are doing that are not allowed to be proud or express themselves.
JS: Uncle Kage [Anthrocon CEO Sam Conway] is in the film a great deal. I’ve been to one or two of his [how to deal with the] media panels. The first thing he tells people is don’t say things like “we don’t all have sex in animal costumes” to reporters—don’t lead with a defensive comment. At one point he says he accepts everyone [into the fandom] then elsewhere in your film he starts excluding people he feels don’t represent furry in its best light, but overall I think he’s very invested in trying to mainstream furry and I respect him for that.
DR: The movie is my take on the fandom. It’s not the authority on the fandom and I hope when people see the movie they understand it’s not [about] all furries, it’s about these furries.
I like the complexity of the community. I don’t know all the answers. Getting rid of one voice of authority and giving it back to individual people was very important to me. It was important to me to protest what [Kage] stands for. I understand where he’s coming from, that the betterment of community, how the community is viewed is the most important thing rather than the right to express yourself.
Boomer is the opposite. What’s most important to him is expressing himself even if it potentially makes the community look bad. My bias is that I personally believe attempts to squelch that individuality are not helping us. Everybody that has seen the movie and is not a furry adores Boomer because he’s unique and he’s passionate.
I think furries are so scared that if the wrong image gets out we’re going to be finished. I don’t think that’s true. It’s 2016; we’re having conversations about identity we’ve never had before. The world is changing and it’s not in the same place it was in the ‘90s when Kage started doing his panels.
JS: I have to say the first shot of Boomer standing up in his shredded newspaper dog costume made me uncomfortable. [I did not say this at the interview, but I would not have had that reaction if he was wearing a well-made fursuit instead.] You’re not making this film to be an ambassador to explain furry in all its glorious manifestations, you’re talking about people expressing themselves through furry; would that be correct?
DR: Yes, that’s correct.
JS: That’s why I’m concerned.
This may be the only movie about furry that people are going to see, and they’re going to think “this is [the fandom].” At one point you cut from Boomer saying he’s not interested in adult art to Varka showing off his animal dildos [“I’m a cocksmith by trade”] and the artificial cum that can be pumped through them. That’s something else that made me uncomfortable, and again, I’m afraid people are going to judge the fandom by your movie; they’re not going to think these are unique individuals who are part of the fandom, they’re going to think this is the fandom.
DR: I have two responses to that: One, I think you should give people more credit. I made a movie for smart people, not dumb people. You have to be able to understand and keep up with what the ideas of the movie are. If you are following it, the movie is very clear it’s about community representation: the trouble in representing a community and embracing that problem instead of trying to ignore it. I think anybody who is willing to watch the movie with half a brain should be able to figure that out; I don’t think it’s that hard to figure out. I think you should give people a little more credit than watching the movie and thinking all furries are weird. In all of the screenings I’ve done that has not happened.
Two, I think the best criticism of the movie is to make another movie. I’m happy to have more people included in this conversation. I don’t want my voice to be the end-all and be-all. I tell every reporter I talk to, I say "you need to talk to more furries", they have to see this movie is a thin slice of what this community has to offer.
I don’t think that’s what my responsibility is. My responsibility to focus on what I want, and I don’t think it’s going to be bad for us. I think the world is ready for this movie whether furries realize it or not.
This is really important to me. I don’t want people to think I don’t care, and I’m just being a selfish asshole and focusing on controversial things just to sell tickets; I’m focusing on what I want to focus on, and I think it will help us. People like to see people for the complex creatures they are. That’s why I think it’s not going to hurt us as much as people think it is.
JS: Early in the film Boomer seems eccentric and kind of delusional about being a dog or trying to be a dog, but at the end of the film he suddenly becomes more eloquent and self-aware, and admits it’s just a form of self-expression. Was that a conscious choice how you structured the film?
DR: Yeah, I think there’s no way to introduce Boomer without a little bit of judgment. When you just see him, most peoples’ first reaction is judgment, “this looks like a crazy person.” I think when you go back and watch the movie again, there’s a sense of he’s pretty consistent, “this is what I like to do, this is who I am, this is my identity.” By the end you’ve spent enough time with him to understand, especially after all the craziness of people talking about representation and how complicated it is, it’s refreshing to return to Boomer. He’s just a guy who wants to be a dog. He knows exactly what’s going on and I think there’s something so beautiful and simple about that.
When I first saw him, I thought he was crazy; then the more I met him. the more I realized how much common sense he made. It was organic in how he evolved throughout the movie; it was just the way I perceived him.
JS: Can I ask what made you furry? Were you someone who was into anthropomorphics before you found the fandom, or did you discover furry and then decide to be part of it?
DR: I was into [anthropomorphics] since I was twelve or so, it was definitely the former. I felt a connection to this stuff, then I found art, and it was, “holy shit [other] people are into this!” As far as the social side, I didn’t start going to conventions until I started working on the movie, I got more into the fandom as I worked on the movie.
JS: Do you remember what first cultivated your interest in fur?
DR: Porn. [Laughs] That’s why I’m not a good representation [of the fandom], right?
Definitely porn, then went more into art and everything like that, to be perfectly frank.
JS: So you would imagine naughty stuff about cartoon characters?
DR: Yes. [Laughs]
JS: You were looking online and stumbled across it; it was your “I’m not the only one!” moment?
DR: Yeah, the Internet. I think going through adolescence, that part of my life and then growing up with the Internet, was the recipe for finding furry, and a lot of other people had the same experience; it was really exciting to see how many others.
I hope people realize how much I do care about this community. I didn’t make this movie just to rile people up or make them mad. I love this community, I love it so much I want to talk about it and ask difficult questions, I want it to be the best it can be. That’s why I’m going to more conventions to show the movie and talk about it. I don’t even need people to like it, I just want them to know how I feel.
JS: One comment on Flayrah said furries are going to hate this movie, or maybe hate you.
DR: They meant furries who are worried about the film are going to hate me. I think most people who aren’t furries won’t—but if they already hate furries, this movie isn’t going to change their minds.