Documentaries don’t always need to claim that their subjects change the world or study incidents that send ripples across the annals of history. Some of them merely peek into a corner of the world where few have peeked. Big Fur is in the latter category of documentary film and it focuses its gaze on a big name in the world of competitive taxidermy.
Ken Walker is a man from Alberta who has devoted his life to taxidermy. As a child he was not only preoccupied with the artform, he was damn good at it too. His career in the trade took off early, and he entered into the supportive community and competitive sphere of taxidermy competitions.
Big Fur smartly assumes that the audience needs a good primer on taxidermy’s mechanics and history. It sprinkles these practical lessons throughout the quick 76 minute running time. The doc also smartly averts its eyes from the grosser, gory aspects of the job and leaves most of the pelt shots to cleaning and fluffing, rather than muscle removal or anything that might ooze.
Beyond the lessons in skinning, Big Fur knows that the most interesting bits of the story are not just the sculptures of dead animals, but the lives of the living who make them. Walker is a kind man who never fits into the box the world wants to put him in. He is quite the singer, an emotionally removed husband, and a tad obsessed with Bigfoot. Walker acknowledges there is no scientific taxonomy of the Sasquatch (yet), but that does not stop him from recreating the creature in taxidermic form.
A good portion of the film is filled with watching the development and construction of this cryptozoology monster. The amount of thought and time put into the beast is only matched by Walker’s blind insistence that the creature is not solely a figment of folklore. He knows Bigfoot is real and he can hardly wait for the inevitable news to break when science finally accepts it.
Big Fur keeps the story and character exploration at a steady pace. It never dives deep into psychology or anything beyond what might come up in conversation should you ever run into Walker at the local pub. The light tone makes Walker and his passions feel approachable, but superficial. This is not an examination of why a man does what he does, rather it is just a friendly introduction to an interesting guy.