Foxes of the Film Festival: Furries (A Documentary)
Furries: A Documentary
Kickstarter ending 5/17/15 (Funding successful!)
There seems to be a general trend of public perception of furries as a geek model minority, kind of like trekkers used to be when there was such a thing–a part of the greater weirdo-American world, by and large harmless, enthusiastic folks in fun costumes (1, 2). I could easily be very wrong on this, but it seems like our general acceptance in society and the greater Fendom is on the rise–haters notwithstanding. We have our thing–it’s cute fuzzy animals–but beyond that, it seems like we’re doing pretty well on the “mainstream normalcy” front. Vanity Fair? CSI’s fatal PAFCon? MTV Sex2K? Those are all solidly 10 years ago (okay, there was Dr. Phil in 2014, but it’s a show about sensationalism…) Obviously in the world of public perception nothing is black or white, and okay, I do live in Austin, which is the most liberal and wacky town south of the Mason-Dixon line, but it seems like public fox tails and kitty ears aren’t really drawing attention anymore, and fursuiters are more selfie opportunities than anything else.
So while I have only positive things to say about Furries: A Documentary, funding (and funded!) on Kickstarter, a part of me wonders whether “four years in the making” is a selling point, when the tides of perception have shifted over those four years. Hard to say.
Furries is an upcoming documentary by Ohio furry Ashaya. It’s solidly community-friendly, focusing on what looks like the best aspects of the fandom–our creativity, the resilience and strength of the community, and the interesting topic of identity-building. It’s stepped beyond just looking at fursuits to look at art and artists and the people inside the costume. It looks like the spiritual home of the documentary–the primary story thread that is the documentary’s narrative–is likely to be the furs of Ohio and Morphicon, But it’s only a four-hour drive from Morphicon to Anthrocon, and the biggest furry con on earth gets its share of screentime.
Ironically, Ashaya’s next big life change is moving to San Francisco this year. So far as this documentary goes, maybe it’s for the best that the story it tells is mostly captured a safe distance from the two beating hearts of the fandom (in the United States at least), San Francisco and Pittsburg. It would have been a different story if the narrative lens was “Big city and bigger community,” where the fandom was more “celebrated local weird” than “fringe group looking for acceptance.” As it is, Dayton, OH is probably a great starting point, its size is very much “Midwest Anytown, USA,” only just over the national average city size.
Apology (N): A reasoned argument or writing in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine (from Greek, “Speaking in defense”)
As a “by furries, for the public” production, Furries is solidly in the “apology” camp–explaining the community, building a case for greater acceptance of same. That’s a good thing, something the young pups can watch with their parents to share our story, without all the weirdness. In that sense, Furries is going to be a useful tool. As Ashaya says in his video, “I’m a member of the furry fandom, and I’ve seen what the media does when they put us in the public sphere: I see this as a way to give us a voice.”
That being said–and I’m speculating, in fairness–it looks like, as an apologetic film, it may steer far, far away from the coverage of 2000-2010, when furries were seen more as a subcategory of “sex pervert” than “fantasy fandom.” The narrative that the Secret Masters of the Furry Fandom has been pushing for, well, most of the last 10 years is “happy geeks, not so different from you really, but with better insulation.” And that’s certainly a side of the fandom, but it’s also amazingly open to gays and lesbians, and while it’s not a sexual fandom (you can argue that if you like), it’s a fandom with a strong sexual component. One thing that made CSI and MTV’s Sex2K compelling is that both told sensational, sexual stories.
True, this is not a part of the story you want to share with mom and dad, I completely understand that. And maybe “we wear fox costumes” is sensational enough on its own. But look at some of the other big dorkumentaries–say, “Dungeon Masters.” (Movie, Trailer)” This documentary followed four (?) Dungeons and Dragons game masters, from GenCon (the tabletop RPG industry’s Anthrocon) to GenCon. It focused on a girl who dressed as a dark elf in full body make-up finding her true love (a guy dressed as same), a power-gaming ogre of a GM who got his jollies by killing player characters whenever possible, and one failing marriage and career. They are stories that are larger than life–well, the “failing career and marriage” story is depressingly common. But you could argue that these “characters” were not actually telling stories about the act of playing D&D. They were reconciliations with family, extreme examples of play bordering on crazed, and finding love.
My concern is that Furries seems like a response to the negative coverage of the media dark age, and in steering a course away sensationalism, it loses what made those pieces fun. I have never, in my life, laughed as hard as when I watched MTV’s Sex2K, I thought I would die of not being able to breath. There’s a darkness at the core of the dorkumentary genre, no getting around it, but the balance of sympathy, sensationalism, and schadenfreude is what sells the genre.
And I don’t think Furries: A Documentary is a part of that genre.
This is total speculation on my part. Explaining the fandom to outsiders involves juggling facts and ideas to a degree that approaches schizophrenia. There is no one furry fandom. “We are vast, we contain multitudes.” (Whitman, “Song of Myself“) And likewise, there is no one story of the furry fandom, and there isn’t one audience for a story about the fandom. Any conversation about the fandom’s strengths should begin with the power of a community for young people who might otherwise be entirely outsiders. Like celphones, Facebook, and good fantasy on TV, this is a thing that could not exist when I was growing up in the 80s, and a phenomenal resource for this generation. And explaining that side of the fandom is definitely a great service.
Anyway! About the kickstarter itself. This is a “just needs a spit-and-polish” kickstarter, with a low starting goal to cover sound editing, color balance and visual cleanup, and DVD/Blu-ray production. Presumably a bit of this is going to buy beers and gas for soundtrack artists, The Lab Partners.
I want to call attention to the kickstarter video itself, it’s well-done! Very much a “talking heads” video, but Ashaya comes across as confident and lucid. In the video he flubs once, but it’s the introduction to the “blooper reel” bullet point, so this is obviously intentional. The perks are a bit limited–credit recognition, DVD special features, and a custom badge. I’m surprised there wasn’t an angel-level pledge level, that’s nearly standard with an indie film kickstarter, but keeping it simple and fulfillable is its own virtue–and given that Ashaya has already gotten to the “polish” phase, it’s possible he has already gotten his angels in order.
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