The 2000s were not an easy time for those who were furry or gay. The mainstream media was still hyper-focused on the sexual aspects of fandom expression in a freak-show style of coverage, instead of the overall complexity of the community. The ability to marry individuals of the same sex was still not federally recognized in the United States and wouldn’t be until the early 2010s. It was in that era that one furry artist named Rukus took their own life at the end of 2008.
Now, just over a decade later, someone who knew this artist on a personal level has finished a documentary covering the life of their lost friend and their interlude with fandom. That director, Brett Hanover, contacted me and gave me the opportunity to view a screening of the film.
The show releases on Vimeo and their own website today and can be viewed there. You can choose to watch before I go over the details and review below. Though the review may help understand some of the nuances of the film.
Stories of the Fur-Curious and a 2005 convention
One thing I noticed right away is that the documentary doesn’t really introduce people or events directly. It will be a bit tricky for someone who is not familiar with the fandom or its history to understand the context as quickly as someone who is more versed in our culture.
It goes into the background of the director and how they came into contact with the fandom, which from context appeared to be a high school project they did which was why they visited Mephit Furmeet 2005. You can only get the date and the name of the convention they attended by looking at the screenshot of the flyer provided; it isn’t explicitly mentioned that it is MFM until much later on during the main phase of the film. There is no hand-holding exposition.
The director does an interview with the journalist who developed the article for the flyer, which ends up leading to another person who was also there to cover the furries incognito. It was quite amazing that he was able to get interviews with individuals who were all at MFM 2005 for basically the same reason he was: as a curious outsider trying to get some scoop on furries for non-fandom reasons.
Shift from documentary to dramatization
After the interviews, the documentary transitions into a dramatization format, around the time where Brett brings up his issues with OCD. This shift in narrative style is near-invisible, and had me a bit lost until he was discussing the photos he took at Mephit Furmeet with another individual in a ballcap in present tense, who we later learn is named Carl. They were going to go meet Rukus, at which point it goes into an audio recording of that meeting.
From the point discussing Brett’s OCD onwards, the documentary follows Brett around as he tries to learn more about the fandom, and use it in his drama project. His conversations with Rukus seem to stem mostly around his visions for his fictional world that he was developing.
The lens provided by Rukus is imperfect, however, and the play produced using information he gets from this contact draws the attention of an older individual in the fandom named Peter Goetz, who notes that the play focused heavily on abusive relations - which isn’t what the fandom is all about.
When Brett informs Peter of his primary source for the play, Peter asks why Rukus was hanging around in channels about abusive relationships, to which the current Brett was unsure. This transitions smartly to the next scene, where we see the young Rukus deal with his problematic home life, being reared in an unstable household. It is at this point where the film hits its stride, using good transitions from personal abuses and Rukus’ home life, using his furry art as a coping mechanism in the face of it, to societal abuses where individuals use their platform to try to manipulate the lives of others from their pulpit.
This is where this documentary's premise as a college project following Rukus and his love Sable in recording as they go about their lives. It shows a story of a person getting lost in personalities developed in the characters he would create, and the foundation of those characters in the abuses experienced in their life; until, in the end, he took his own life by hanging in November 2008.
A story within the fandom, not of the fandom
As a film, I would not recommend it as a person’s first look into the fandom. I would highly recommend viewing Lisa Ling’s “This is Life” episode about furry fandom before moving into this one. It should give a more foundational understanding of the usage of fandom to help a person cope with the rocky world around them, and give the context required to successfully navigate this dramatization-style feature.
It does cover adult elements such as intimate relationships, and the challenges that the past can place upon those. Of course, it also deals with the loss of Rukus himself. It’s not all fluffs and tails. In fact, that is quite literally the case, as there is little coverage of fursuiting in this film, sans the interactions of Rukus and a few fursuiters during Furry Weekend Atlanta. For those in the fandom for non-suiting reasons, such coverage may be a breath of fresh air.
The cinematography is solid, probably the best yet in a independent furry documentary thanks to the experimentation they do with dramatisation. The ending animation was well-done and acted as a bookending send-off statement, and the corresponding visual made me give a bit of a laugh at its clever usage. It showed growth from the animation at the center of the feature, which was more sketchy. [Like his art.]
In essence, this documentary also emulates the fandom’s growth in the arts over time. For better and worse the quality of furry artistic works has grown. While this highlights how far we have come in our crafts, it can also intimidate those still young who don’t yet have the skill to create such works.
Rukus is a story you are not going to find in other documentaries. It is definitely worth a watch for those in the fandom. It is a story faceted in a particular historical lens of one person’s interactions with the fandom at an adverse point of our history. As long as you go into it realizing it is not a broad view of the fandom as a medium or community - covered already by other works - you will appreciate it.