When asked to take a look at Big Fur (2019), I was told, “It’s about Bigfoot.” Bigfoot? “Sure,” I said. Without reading the synopsis, I eagerly started watching. For about the first 15 minutes, I thought I had the wrong movie. This was about taxidermy and a man named Ken Walker, three-time world champion of the art. It was still entertaining and informative, though, as family members shared stories about Walker, who said about himself, keeping dead animal carcasses in his mother’s freezer, “I guess I was a weird kid in a lot of ways.”
Big Fur then becomes more than just a character profile when Walker reveals that in the third or fourth grade, he wrote a story about Bigfoot. He wanted the creature to be real, but as he grew older, he realized it couldn’t be real or he would have seen it. That is, until he came across “stories” and watched the famous Patterson-Gimlin film of an unidentified subject that the filmmakers claimed was Bigfoot. He says experts concluded that the footage would not have been able to manufacture with the technology that existed at the time.
Walker then begins a five-year journey using his prize-winning talents to build a life-sized replica of Bigfoot that he would eventually enter into the 2015 World Taxidermy Championship in Springfield, Missouri. As director Dan Wayne follows him through the process, we not only witness the attention to detail that Walker uses to construct his masterpiece, but also begin to learn about his obsession with Bigfoot. He says his ultimate goal is not to win, but to have someone walk up, see the model and “give him what’s in their freezer.”
What does that mean? While alluding to the aforementioned childhood habit of his, it also refers to the “DNA evidence” he keeps in his freezer: two plastic bags labelled “Sasquatch Scat Samples.” Over the years, Walker visited several locations where Bigfoot has been spotted. He has seen beds that he calls “nests” and tree structures that look random, but he says have meaning. He tells hunters to bring him anything they find. By the time Big Fur hits an hour of its 76-minute running time, the story has begun to represent something much bigger.
Though they’re fleeting, there are comments that sound eerily relatable to the recent state of the country:
It’s mentioned that much of the land presumed to be Bigfoot habitats are being cleared. The question of the mythical creature’s existence becomes irrelevant. “If we want to protect the land, does it matter if they exist?”
Walker also mentions a schism between hunters and conservationists. “There’s a bad vibe out there right now. We need to step back and realize that we both share this stuff.”
After we witness a competition opening with prayer, Walker ironically notes that taxidermy is practiced mostly by right-wingers who don’t realize they’re artists. Normally, they abhor the arts.
After the one-hour mark, Big Fur reveals a final story that’s been developing in front of our eyes without us even realizing it. I’m not going to reveal what it is, but I must say it really affected me. Based on personal experiences of my own during the last year, I identified with Walker when he speaks of him and his wife living separate lives in the same house. “It’s a difficult thing to be lonely in your own home.” Couple this with the bittersweet result of the 2015 World Taxidermy Championship, and Big Fur becomes surprisingly emotional.
Wedge Films will present advance screenings of Big Fur at 10:00 PM on May 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Springfield, Missouri, and at 5:30 PM on May 5 at the Screenland Armour in Kansas City. Walker and Wayne will appear at the events and will be bringing a special guest: Patty, Walker’s 9-foot tall Bigfoot recreation (which will be available for photo ops.) For more information, visit BigFurMovie.com.