Review: 'Furries: A Documentary', by Eric Risher
Furries: A Documentary [trailer] is a 33-minute video about furry fandom directed by Eric Risher. The project started as a short student film he made for university in 2009 called Through Fox's Eyes [trailer], after which he began gathering footage to turn it into a full documentary.
In 2015, Eric used Kickstarter to fund the final stages of the production, and doubled the modest $2,500 he'd hoped to receive. The completed work appeared in May 2016 – as did the online release of another fandom documentary, Fursonas (81 min.) by Dominic Rodriguez, who'd secured more attention and better distribution.
I think Furries is definitely the stronger of the two; it projects a much more positive vibe!
Risher's documentary went through many revisions. When he showed early versions of it to test audiences, they had trouble recognizing that anyone who wasn't wearing a furry costume could be a furry as well. So he made a deliberate effort to interview furries out of costume. That being said, there are many fursuiters to be seen in the documentary! But the focus is on the fans themselves.
Specifically, he focuses on five fans (two men, three women) and how they personally identify with the fandom. Skookum is an artist and fursuit maker. Mystee collects squirrel knick-knacks and enjoys the fandom for its social side. Neala is a mother. Luca is a fursuiter. TJ is a writer, in a gay relationship with someone outside the fandom, and a practicing Roman Catholic; during the documentary he attends his first furmeet.
In contrast to Fursonas, none of these people are as distinctively recognizable as Boomer or Uncle Kage, despite this the group presented by the director are still memorable. They're personable, forthright, and great at communicating about what drew them into the fandom. Kage does make an appearance, but only briefly (and silently) in one of the DVD extras; Risher instead interviews KP, Anthrocon's programming director for the film.
There are also many cameo appearances by people that Risher interviewed on the street. Some of them are furries, who supply their fursona name and species, and say what part of the country they're from. Some are non-fandom people, who are either reacting to fursuiters, or say what little they know about furries (most of which is positive). Dr. Gerbasi and Nuka of FurScience (aka the International Anthropomorphic Research Project) show up occasionally to shed light on things, either briefly dispelling myths or providing little extra details about what their research has found.
The concept of fursonas is given a lot of nuance by the different fans, and it's linked to artwork. As TJ explains, "We don't have a source material to pull from, because all of this is up here," as he points to his head. "We need someone else to visualize this for us, or we need to visualize it ourselves via art." I particularly liked Neala's explanation:
I think that the 'you' that you project on Facebook isn't the real you, it's the 'you' you want your friends to see you as. I think that the 'you' that you project to your boss isn't you, it's the person that you want your boss to see, it's the person you want your boss to promote. And I think that the fursona that you create is either the person that you want to be, [or] wish you were all the time, or [it's] the 'you' that nobody else gets to see, it's just another facet.
Risher was worried about how to include the sexual side of the fandom. He didn't want to sweep it under the rug, but he also didn't want it to narrow the viewer's attention from the broader scope he was trying to get across. So he shows short clips (Vanity Fair, CSI, etc.), and the five fans nonchalantly agree that the sexual side is part of the fandom.
Skookum comments, "I enjoy drawing explicit art. It's entertaining to me. It's not normal, and thus it's kind of taboo, so I do it! 'Cause I can. And there's someone who's going to enjoy it too." Mystee shares a few tasteful nude commissions from her sketchbook. This softer "Most furries are ok with it" attitude is vastly different from the Fursonas documentary, which presented Kage as trying to enforce a squeaky-clean spin, contrasting him against Varka's Bad Dragon dildos. I much prefer Risher's approach.
Luca and others discuss fursuiting, and conventions are shown with clips from Morphicon and Anthrocon. A mother at a panel talks about how fursuiting helped her young daughter become less of an introvert. Charity fund-raising isn't mentioned, but KP gives some attendance figures, and mentions how much money Anthrocon brings into Pittsburgh. There are clips of dances and more fursuiters.
The five fans were also asked about how open they've been with other people about furry. TJ's boyfriend knows about it, and one of Mystee's co-workers guessed. Neala won't bring it up with her son until he's older, and definitely doesn't want her neighbors to know. Skookum's parents know, but she gets annoyed when they mention it to her extended family. Still, she's fairly OK with letting others find out - but she wants people to get to know her first, before the furry thing comes up.
Watching the video, one thing I noticed at the start was that there was no definition given of what "furry" means. Dr. Gerbasi came the closest: "Creatures walking upright and talking, and maybe wearing clothes and all that kind of thing, but also you have human beings taking on the characteristics of animals." As the documentary progressed, I figured it was taking a very nebulous approach, and I got used to it. After I watched the director's DVD comments, he confirmed that this amorphous and ambiguous quality of the fandom was something he wanted to get across.
The DVD extras include the director's comments, deleted scenes, an extended look at Anthrocon, more clips of Dr. Gerbasi and Nuka, plus some bloopers. I enjoyed Risher's commentary the best; he brought up some interesting points, like when holding the camera, there's a difference between participating with your subjects vs. observing them. When working with fursuiters, they wanted to interact with the camera. Risher had to let them get that out of their system, before he could film them interacting with other people. On the down side of being behind the camera, Risher felt like a bystander to his hobby. When the production was finally over, he had to reintegrate himself back into the fandom.
Overall, I really, really enjoyed this documentary and how positive it was! The five fans were easy to relate to, and although the video couldn't go into all the details, it touched on so many different sides of the fandom. And it did it without bombarding the viewer with too much information. There were good visuals, good audio, and the music by Lab Partners helped create the right mood. I can say without a doubt that Furries: A Documentary is now my go-to video for when I want to introduce outsiders to the fandom, replacing my previous favorite, Fanboy Confessional.
I hope Risher's work isn't overlooked or overshadowed by the Fursonas documentary. Furries is much shorter, positive and more informative, and it doesn't try to drum up drama. The tone is introspective, and I think it's aimed at an audience that's outside the fandom. (For furry viewers, it's a little subdued and stuff you already know). I think it deserves more recognition.
If you're interested in seeing Furries: A Documentary, it is available for purchase on DVD, Blu-Ray and online streaming from Vimeo and furryfilm.com. (A huge thank-you to Skippyfox for buying the DVD at Anthrocon and sending it to me!)