‘Fursonas’ beats Zootopia as most important furry movie, coming soon on Video On Demand.
by Patch O'Furr
2016 has been labeled The Year Of Furry. Disney’s Zootopia is just the start. There’s a surprising amount of other films to come with anthropomorphic animals. From Kung Fu Panda 3, Ratchet and Clank, The Angry Birds Movie, Secret Life of Pets, Sing, The Boy and The Beast, and TMNT 2 (yes it counts)… there’s a wealth of films for furries to enjoy (or love to hate) this year.
There’s a film apart from those that has surprisingly flown under a lot of people’s radars. It’s not a big-budget blockbuster, and doesn’t have massive marketing. (With vast differences in “furry movies”, that’s what the headline references.) Few have talked about it… but for this tiny fandom, it has special quality above any other.
Fursonas is a documentary directed by Dominic Rodriguez. It looks at the fandom itself, to clear up fuzziness over what it’s about.
Dominic’s idea happened by accident. It started as a senior thesis project while he majored in filmmaking – in Pittsburgh, of course. His friend, Olivia, wanted to produce a documentary and she asked Dominic to direct. The original idea was to do something related to a local children’s hospital, but it never took off. Then Anthrocon 2012 drew notice. Dominic was able to convince his crew to check it out:
“I’d been interested in furry since I was about twelve-years-old. Over the years, I’d felt that no media had really done justice to the wonderful complexity of this community. I always wanted someone to make a good furry documentary, but I never imagined that it would end up being me.
I also should mention that I was a secret furry for the first two years of shooting this documentary. I didn’t tell me crew or the subjects that I had a fursona myself. It was important for me to approach this project as a filmmaker first and as a furry second – putting aside any biases that I had in order to make a good movie. However, I eventually realized that ignoring my bias was impossible and dishonest — so I learned to embrace it.”
Some of you might know him better as “Video”. His card-carrying, fursuiting fandom membership sets this movie apart from anything that has tried to involve us without being conceived by us.
In Documentary, there have been many attempts to explore/explain the furry fandom to outsiders. The most well known is ‘Furries – An Inside Look‘. Most are very short, and only lightly get into Furry 101, without much deeper philosophy about what furry means or why a person would feel it inside.
If you don’t feel furry, it can be hard to see deeper, let alone know the best starting point. Is it history, artwork, games, literature, or movies?
There’s not much “canonical” furry media or even definitions in common. Everyone defines what it means for themselves. That doesn’t even get into the built-in schism of G-rated vs. yiffy stuff, which is hard to split apart from what people are into. It’s truly a tough topic to tackle.
Dominic explains his intentions:
“I decided early on that I wanted to focus on fursuiting as my jumping off point for the interviews. Although we all know that you don’t need a suit to be a furry, there is something very meaningful and cinematic about these costumes. Obviously, if you own a fursuit, you’re passionate about the fandom and I wanted to talk to passionate people.
I understand that seeing so many suiters can be a red flag for some in the fandom, because many are worried about misrepresentation. I want to assure furries that the film goes way beyond the spectacle of fursuiting into exploring identity, community, media, and plenty of other things.
In 2012, with the first round of interviews, I felt it was important that the furries feel comfortable more than anything else. I allowed them to steer the conversation however they liked, because I wanted to make a looser, less manipulative film that allowed these people to speak in their own words. Over time, the subjects became more comfortable with me (as I did with them) so I was able to explore much deeper territory and ask more challenging questions.
It was a learning process, for sure. I was figuring it all out as I went along. I didn’t have much of a plan. It was just about getting as many different perspectives on furry as possible.”
Belonging and controversy is part of ‘Fursonas’. One of its perspectives comes from Boomer The Dog – best known as the man who tried to make that his legal name in court, who makes his fursuit from cut paper. With his famous Dr. Phil interview, Boomer became a topic that leads some Furries to blindly lash out.
Boomer The Dog is a treasure of the community. There – we said it. There are countless members with standard ‘sonas and outward “respectability”. There’s only one Boomer. He’s harmless, as friendly as a real dog, and marches to his own beat. Those who don’t know it might miss out on what makes this a fandom like no other.
Dominic addresses controversy:
“When I started this film, I imagined that some furries I would meet on my journey would disprove stereotypes, while others may confirm them. I knew that I didn’t want the film to be a slam piece, but I didn’t want it to be a boring PSA for the fandom either. I wanted it to be real.
Many furries have heard of Boomer The Dog or seen him on TV, but have not taken the time to get to know him. I had the advantage of living a mere 20 minutes away from Boomer, so I knew that if I was going to tell this story that I needed to reach out to him. One of the most common objections I hear about Boomer is that he isn’t a furry. From talking to him for four years, I know that he does indeed self-identify as furry. He also has more insight into the history and philosophy of this community than anyone I’ve ever met.
I’m sure if you’ve only seen Boomer on Dr. Phil or Nat Geo that you will seriously doubt the validity of that claim. I admit, I too was skeptical when I first set foot into his house. In those early days, I didn’t know if he would end up in the movie or on the cutting room floor. All I knew was that I had to talk to him. Today, I am happy to call Boomer a friend and I cannot implore furries enough to open their minds and to give him another chance.”
Fursonas had a long evolution to become a full-fledged feature film. Daring to accept Boomer was part of the vision that took it to success.
Dominic started the doc as a short 12-minute senior thesis film, but he couldn’t image where it would lead. Then in 2013, the crew was awarded a 10,000 dollar development grant from The Sprout Fund – a competition supporting short film makers to develop longer work, to nurture the Pittsburgh creative community. It helped them to keep filming and broaden the scope of the documentary.
In 2014, two of the crew members, Christine Meyer (Editor) and Olivia Vaughn (Producer) became interns at Animal Media Group. The production house let them edit ‘Fursonas’ at their facility. After seeing the results, Animal offered to be their official production company for one final year of filming.
It gave Dominic support and resources to bring the film to another level, while keeping true to his original vision. It led to film festivals:
“We submitted to dozens of film festivals around the world, and Slamdance was the first to accept us. It was an ideal festival for Fursonas because they emphasize real, raw stories from first-time filmmakers as opposed to big celebrities.”
For those not in the know, Slamdance is a big deal. It focuses on emerging filmmakers and low-budget independent film. Notable names discovered at the festival include Lena Dunham (Girls), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), and Christopher Nolan.
Not only did Fursonas get accepted into the festival, it was the opening film. It won a “Spirit of Slamdance award.” The reception was so positive, that it sold to a mainstream distributor right away.
To repeat… A documentary about the Furry Fandom, made by a Furry, got to open one of the US’s most sought after film festivals. It was picked up for distribution shortly afterwards.
It’s not just furry, it’s legit. It’s both.
Zootopia may be what we want… but Fursonas is the film we need. It may be minor in comparison to Zootopia’s $150 million budget – but spirit-wise, this is huge. No furry filmmaker has accomplished such a feat. Most do just music video or shorts or con videos. This sets a new bar for the fandom.
It promises a film that both Furries and Non-Furries can not only enjoy, but relate to. Dominic says:
“At Slamdance, the reaction was very positive. We received the Spirit Award for “putting good energy into the festival.” Non-furries tend to find the movie relatable, since it doesn’t sugarcoat the real struggles that the fandom faces in representing itself. That conflict between identity and community isn’t something that’s exclusive to furry–you find it in communities everywhere. I had always hoped that this movie would go beyond that label of “furry documentary” and be something more.
Of course, I’m much more interested to hear what furries will think. Fursonas was intended for both furries and non-furries, but I think that people in this community stand to gain more from the film. There were five furries in the audience at Slamdance, one of whom traveled 300 miles for the screening. All of them responded very well to the film, and I had the pleasure of discussing it at length with them afterward.
If traveling 300 miles is any indication, this fandom is hugely important to a lot of people. I realize that I have a responsibility to do right by furries, and how I do that while still making a film that’s honest and real is something I’ve lost plenty of sleep over. I certainly don’t expect all furries to love what I’ve done, but my hope is that it starts a real conversation in this community.”
The film will have limited screenings in LA, Chicago, and Atlanta. Follow the movie’s publicity for more information and screenings near you.
March 10, 2016
with a Q&A and special guests!
Los Angeles screening
Sunday, March 20 at 8pm
Wednesday, March 30 at 8pm
Saturday, April 2 at 2:30pm
7 Stages Theatre
“The Atlanta showing is the EXACT SAME WEEKEND AS FWA!! which is an insane stroke of luck!”
News and reviews for the film have been positive:
- Deadline Hollywood: “Gravitas Sews Up Slamdance Furry Subculture Docu ‘Fursonas’”
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Pittsburgh doc on furries finds distributor at Slamdance festival“
- Deadline.com: Slamdance Awards: ‘Million Dollar Duck’ & ‘Fursonas’ Among Indie Winners
- Furry Reddit: “Just saw the premiere of Fursonas at Slamdance!“
- Hollywood Reporter: ‘Fursonas’: Slamdance Review
- Forces of Geek: SLAMDANCE: FURSONAS (review)
- Hammer To Nail: FURSONAS – A Fantasy For All
Dominic is still in awe that his little thesis film has gained such amazing attention. Expect to see it streaming on Netflix or similar places this summer.
“I love that we’re getting a Video On Demand release because it means that furries all over the world will be able to watch the film and be part of this conversation. There will also be much more attention on the non-furry side of things. Whether more attention is a good thing or not will no doubt be endlessly debated. All I can say is that it’s important for me to be able to express myself as a filmmaker and to give other furries a voice.”