Dave Gibson decided to become a taxidermist while at Home Depot with his wife. Jeff Brain was a hobbyist in high school. Calvin King's school counselor advised him to enter politics, but instead he became a perfectionistic and competitive taxidermist. Tally Abecassis' Lifelike follows the group as it gears up for the 2004 convocation of the Canadian Taxidermy Championship, interspersing their stories with that of Janie Rumm, who commits her dead Jack Russell terrier to a freeze-dryer for two months "to give you the feeling that somewhere he still exists." Blithely funny but not belittling, the film sheds fascinating light on the weird world of "wildlife artists." Abecassis chatted about the film from her Montreal headquarters.
Austin Chronicle: Why taxidermy?
Tally Abecassis: I just started to see taxidermy around more and more. I think urban hipsters are starting to use taxidermy in a kind of ironic way in bars and restaurants, stuff like that. It's just one of those things where you go, "Why? Where does this come from?"
AC: There's nothing ironic at all about the people in the movie.
TA: There's no irony in the film, really, nor in what the taxidermists do. They're very earnest. Basically, they're looking to represent the animal as accurately as they can. It's astounding the lengths they go to to do that. Most taxidermists I met love the outdoors. They love nature, they love animals. I read an interesting quote by Susan Orlean, who also entered a taxidermy competition, and she said that taxidermists love animals they just don't seem to make a distinction between dead animals and live ones. Most people think that if you love animals you wouldn't do taxidermy, but you actually have to love animals to do taxidermy because you're paying homage to the animal.
AC: How did you gain access to the taxidermy subculture?
TA: I think the taxidermists were a little nervous at first. I think they were concerned that I was some secret animal-rights activist. It took a little bit of time for me to gain their trust. I went around to rural areas in Ontario and Quebec looking for taxidermists. It's also kind of unusual for a young woman alone to meet with taxidermists in the backwoods in their sheds. At first, I got a few crank calls from taxidermists. One of them pretended to be somebody calling from PETA to see if I would take the bait. All documentary is a trust issue, so once they felt that they could trust me, we were on our way.
Saturday, March 11, 7pm, Dobie
Wednesday, March 15, 11:30am, Dobie