The first thing that anyone is going to notice about Big Fur is that it has the production values of a show you’d find playing on Canadian public access television about a decade ago. From the reliance on wipe effects to the apparently stock music choices, the film does not exactly telegraph itself as a professionally produced feature documentary, but more like a Sunday morning curiosity that would air alongside a children’s nature program to fill time. However, once one becomes acclimated to the tacky editing choices that stand in stark contrast to the effort placed into sequences of impressive animation, Big Fur reveals itself to be a film with big heart, following the course of one man’s obsession to create the ultimate recreation of Bigfoot.
Ken Walker is a World Champion taxidermist, a Canadian who works out of his home workshop and brings animals back from the dead with remarkable fidelity and exquisite attention to detail. He’s a man dedicated to his craft, sometimes to the alienation of his family and peers, but he’s also entirely egoless about it, hoping to further the art of taxidermy and inspire others to be better than even he is. But if there’s one thing Ken is obsessed with even more than his craft, it’s the existence of the Sasquatch species. Using his experience making lifelike models of pandas and sabretooth tigers from custom molds and other animal hides, Ken sets out to create his most ambitious piece yet: a life-size Bigfoot.
Director Dan Wayne takes a holistic approach to Ken’s quest, flitting between aspects of Ken’s life in a manner that feels less like thematically organized chapters than chronologically convenient diversions. Big Fur will bounce between the history of taxidermy, the mythology and study of the Sasquatch, the construction of the model to be as lifelike as possible, and the impact of Ken’s obsessions on his family, all without regard for organization beyond this being the topic that Ken spoke with the camera about on any given day. However, despite making the film feel a bit messy as a consequence, this choice makes the film feel messy as Ken’s life is, focused on the disparate yet interconnected topics of history, nature, conservation, and proving the existence of Bigfoot to the exclusion of all else.
Big Fur fosters a respect and sense of wonder for the artistry of taxidermy and the value of conservation, but there’s an odd sense of duality when the focus narrows in on Ken’s life again. Sure, it’s amazing that Ken has such impressive knowledge of animal anatomy and the history of Sasquatch sightings, but it feels a little bit strange when he proudly shows off his collection of Bigfoot scat in his freezer, or when you’re reminded that his artistic obsessions aren’t a stable and reliable source of income for his wife and children. Big Fur doesn’t quite enter the realm of full-on character study, but its most fascinating moments are where Ken’s flaws are examined, because they are often a direct consequence of the artistry that makes his work such an interesting subject.
If all you’re looking for is a straightforward story about how a man used his niche interests and expertise to build a lifelike recreation of an as yet undiscovered animal, then Big Fur is certain to scratch that itch in the most basic nuts and bolts sort of way. Unlike Ken Walker’s work, this documentary isn’t so much concerned with details as it is in painting in broad enough strokes that you get a big picture in a scant 75 minutes. But in doing so, what could have been a simple narrative of an artist making art becomes a fleeting glimpse into the macro-level past that informed that art’s creation and the micro-level impact that art has on the man who creates it. And in doing so it leaves enough of a footprint to place your faith in.