by Erik Pedersen
Gravitas Ventures said today that it has hired three new staffers: Laura Florenceas senior director of sales, Dan Fisher as senior director of acquisitions and Rachel Koehler as acquisitions manager. Florence and Fisher will report to company founder and CEO Nolan Gallagher, who made the announcement.
Florence will lead sales of Gravitas titles to on demand and home video platforms. She brings more than 10 years of experience in product and brand management, most recently serving as the executive director of sales for Alchemy. She began her career with Alchemy in 2007 when it was First Look Studios and remained with them as a Brand Manager when they became Millennium Media.
Fisher oversees acquisitions for Gravitas, setting strategy for identifying and tracking 20-25 annual theatrical releases and 300-plus direct-to-VOD films. He also maintains the company’s film festival and market coverage program. Previously, Fisher served as director of worldwide acquisitions at Entertainment One, licensing theatrical and home entertainment content for domestic and international distribution.
Koehler will work alongside Fisher to track and acquire projects that contribute to Gravitas’ slate. She most recently worked at Cinedigm as manager of digital sales and Acquisitions, having joined the company in 2013. While there, she managed key digital accounts including iTunes, Amazon, Hulu and more. As Gravitas’ acquisitions manager, she will work alongside Fisher to track and acquire projects for the company.
“When we founded Gravitas in 2006, we only dared to dream we’d be celebrating ten years of working with so many diverse and talented independent filmmakers,” said Gallagher. “It’s always exciting to add more experienced executives to the GV family, and we look forward to the next 10 years.”
by David Robb
There’s plenty of art in arthouse and indie film productions, but today’s indie-focused panel at the Produced By Conference was all about commerce. Despite its pointed title – “Is The Sky Falling?” – the session certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom, thanks to the force of VOD.
Moderator Ted Mundorff, president and CEO of Landmark Theaters, kicked off the session by noting that the three highest grossing indie films of 2014 took in $192 million at the box office while the three top grossers in 2015 dropped to $91 million.
The panel of indie distributors and financiers agreed that VOD has been a boon to indie filmmakers. “You have to be nimble today, ” said Molly Smith, Partner, Black Label Media. “You have to ride the theatrical wave and you need to pull back and find a life in the VOD space.”
“VOD helps mitigate the risk,” said Jonathan Saba, VP of Marketing, Saban Films.
Daniel Hammond, CCO, Broad Green Pictures, said, “VOD is a part of the business today,” before adding a reassuring “The sky has been failing for a couple of years now.”
“I don’t think the sky is falling,” he said “It’s easier to make films than ever before and yes there are more options for consumers to view movies than ever before”.
By Dave McNary
A trio of newbie distribution outfits — Bleecker Street, Broad Green Pictures and Saban Films — remain upbeat amid the profound changes percolating through Hollywood.
Execs with each, plus “Sicario” producer Molly Smith, appeared Saturday at the Produced By conference at the Sony lot on the panel alarmingly titled “Is the Sky Falling? The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Independent Film Producers.”
“I don’t think the sky is falling,” said Bleecker Streets’s Andrew Karpen. “There’s clearly a market for over-35 audiences in theatrical releases.”
Bleecker Street’s successes so far include “Eye in the Sky” with $18 million, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Trumbo” — the latter two with over $7 million each, despite limited theatrical release. Karpen noted that it’s crucial to not overreach with more screens than needed, and to recognize where the audience is going to be.
“If we can’t determine who that core audience is, we’re probably not going to get involved,” he added.
Daniel Hammond, chief operating officer for Broad Green, noted that the new studio decided that “A Walk in the Woods” had enough broad appeal to merit a wide release of nearly 2,000 screens, taking in nearly $30 million — despite mixed reviews.
“On a wide release, reviews are less important,” a bemused Hammond noted.
He added that Broad Green sees a focus on wide release as the sensible approach, underlined by making “Straight Outta Compton” producer Matt Alvarez its president of production as the majors focus most of their resources on tentpoles and franchises.
“We’re pushing in-house development,” he added. “We’re strongest in wide release.”
Smith said a similar approach worked with drug war drama “Sicario,” financed by her Black Label Media which found plenty of traction and wound up grossing $46 million domestically via Lionsgate. “You have be nimble today, disciplined and conservative,” she noted.
Jonathan Saba of Saban Films noted that his label has often opted to go the VOD route rather than theatrical. Saban released 2014’s “The Homesman,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, and generated $2.4 million theatrically, a move it will make perhaps once a year.
“We’re agnostic to the medium of distribution,” Saba said. “We have not lost money on a film yet.”
The hour-long panel, moderated by Landmark Theater’s Ted Mundorff, lacked any bashing of the new giant players Amazon and Netflix. ‘For an independent producer, Amazon and Netflix are great partners,” Hammond said.
Broad Green signed a TV output deal in April with Amazon Prime.
EXCLUSIVE: Gravitas Ventures has beamed up worldwide rights to For the Love of Spock, a documentary on the original Star Trek character and actor Leonard Nimoy and an homage to their dedicated fans. The film, which premiered at Tribeca last month, will encounter U.S. theaters and VOD day-and-date on September 9 — one day after the 50th anniversary of the NBC series.
Featuring never-seen home video and family photos, the docu celebrates a half-century of Star Trek through an intimate look at the late Nimoy’s life and career — and Spock — as told by the actor’s son Adam Nimoy, who directed the film. There are interviews with Zachary Quinto — who plays the Vulcan in the new film series — along with Star Trek originals William Shatner and George Takei and others including J.J. Abrams, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana and Jim Parsons.
“It’s no secret that Star Trek is internationally beloved and has shown the world both on screen and off what it truly means to be a global community,” said Nolan Gallagher, founder and CEO of Gravitas Ventures. “We are honored to be collaborating with Adam Nimoy and look forward to bringing this film to audiences everywhere during a monumental year in the Star Trek timeline.”For the Love of Spock was executive produced by David Zappone, with Kevin Layne and Joseph Kornbrodt of 455 Films at Paramount Studios as the producers. The deal was negotiated by Gallagher for Gravitas and Douglas A. Lee on behalf of the filmmakers.
Starring Liz Lerman, Bill Pullman, Joshua Bleill, Keith Thompson, Tamara Hurwitz Pullman, and Marjani-Forte Saunders
Using MacArthur “Genius” choreographer Liz Lerman’s, theatrical performance piece “Healing Wars” as a point of departure “Parables” witnesses the journey of three men who are, in one way or another, all casualties of war: Bill Pullman, the actor; Keith Thompson, the dancer; and Josh Bleill, the former Marine.
Transcending performance, “Parables” explores the intricate nexus that exists between art and artist, between representation and personal narrative, and between historical truth and contemporary experience.
Ultimately, what is laid bare is the struggle of the wounded and their healers that expresses itself both in art as in life itself.
Parables of War: Awards and Accolades
OCTOBER 2, 2015 | 01:33PM PT
LONDON — Unsurprisingly for a musical made by a director and musician with no formal training in either, Rachel Mason’s feature debut “The Lives of Hamilton Fish” — which made its European premiere at London’s Raindance Film Festival — looks and sounds quite unlike any other entry in the festival. With striking visuals that owe as much to Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie as the art of Picasso, it is a Fortean rock opera that tells the life stories of two very different men, both linked by a macabre quirk of history. Described by the New York Times as having a voice that is “part Emmylou Harris and part Yoko Ono,” the L.A.-based artist first screened her film at Hong Kong’s Pineapple Underground festival, where she sang with it live. “After that, I toured with it and I would sing the entire vocal track,” she recalls. “For me, one of the great pleasures is that, thanks to festivals like Raindance, it’s starting to get a life of its own. The programmers saw it and immediately understood that this could be just a film screened by itself.”
How did you come to write “The Lives of Hamilton Fish”?
It really all started with the songs, and the songs came from the characters that I was researching. I discovered this really strange fact. I came across the front page of a newspaper that happened to report the deaths of two famous men, both named Hamilton Fish, who had died within 24 hours of each other. And when I looked up who they were, their stories really inspired me. One of them came from the most prominent American family you could imagine, descending all the way back to one of the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. And the other was one of the most depraved serial killers of all time!
Did you immediately see it as a film project?
My first thought was, “Wow, I wish somebody who makes movies could do something with this — but that’s not me. I write songs and I make art.” [Laughs] I hadn’t made a movie, ever. It was a very long journey that eventually led me to make the film. I just started writing the very first song that came to me, and it kind of went from there.
When did you realise it had potential?
My background is as an artist, and I do shows in the art world and museums and galleries. I was invited to do a show in Philadelphia in a little gallery, and the friends that organized it actually suggested the idea that I perform some of my songs. So I did an installation, and after the show, I had so many people come up to me, asking questions. It led me to think, “How could I make this idea better, more clear, and take it out of the art world, where everything can easily live as this weird, esoteric thing that nobody understands?”
Did you have any experience?
I had never really set out to make a feature film at any point, but, as an art student, I went to UCLA and I took a number of film classes. I shot a very short 16mm film while I was there, and I learned about editing. My dad actually worked in the film industry. He worked on “2001” and “Star Trek,” so I’d kind of known a few things about film, and I had made a few video artworks. So basically I put together all the different skills that I’d acquired over the years.
How did you finance it?
In the U.S. a lot of people use non-profits. You get fiscal sponsorship, and then you can ask for donations as a charity. So I was able to get a really good fiscal sponsor, called the New York Foundation for the Arts. They became my charitable sponsor, and then I asked for donations from friends and family.
What inspired the very stylised look of the film?
“The Threepenny Opera” (1931) is a really huge point of inspiration to me. Films made around that period often had a staged, theatrical look, and I really wanted to capture that. I love composition. Also, I should say that abstraction in painting, and Cubism, is a big inspiration to me as well. That’s kind of what I feel the idea of filmmaking is. I’m not trying to compete with the reality of our world. I’m making a theatrical version, and that’s why I use face make-up that is really obvious. It’s like a rock opera.
How was your first experience of making a feature film?
I had the classic experience of doing everything yourself: producing, directing, acting, writing. I realized all the things that I’m good at and not good at. I loved directing — as soon as I was behind the camera, I knew exactly what to do. But managing people and producing was the world’s biggest nightmare. There are people that are great at that. And I’m not one of them.
Do you see the world of art and film as being separate? What’s the difference?
I would say that one of my favourite things to come out of this experience is that, in the film world, the audience is broader. A lot of my screenings have been at museums, where everybody is over the age of 60 — just a sea of white hair. And then I’ve had screenings where there have been a lot of children. They laugh, they cry, they tell me what moved them. Just a huge range. Whereas in the art world I often will see people who look very similar to me! The exciting thing for me about making a film is being able to make something that is more accessible but no less experimental or unusual. I wish more artists were venturing out.
by Lillianna Byington | Contributing News Editor
Trophies, honorary plaques and stacks of public records requests fill the office of the founder and director of the Documentary Center in the School of Media and Public Affairs.
Nina Gilden Seavey, a research professor of media and public affairs and history, is now working on a film that has required her to sue the federal government for the release of 386 Freedom of Information Act request results. Seavey’s most recent film was picked up by a distributor last week, and will be one of the first short documentary films sold to big-name video streaming companies like Hulu.
Seavey said her newest film, “Parables of War,” is a 32-minute short film that explores the relationships of three men as they heal from the effects war. The film features three male leads: Joshua Bleill, a Marine Corps veteran, Bill Pullman, an award-winning actor and Keith Thompson, a dancer.
Last week, “Parables of War” was picked up by Gravitas Ventures, an international film distribution company. Seavey said that typically distributors don’t like short films but the film is expected to be a success because it will be released around Memorial Day and near the release of “Independence Day 2,” which also features Pullman.
“This had everything a distributor needs to say this thing has legs and that is how we got distribution,” Seavey said.
She said the distributor is looking to publicly launch the short film in May on streaming platforms like Netflix, Epix, Hulu and iTunes.
“They are developing a model that they hope will carry over to a lot of very high-end short films,” Seavey said. “We are happy to be the guinea pig. It is an honor that we are the first.”
Seavey said they have showed the film to medical and nursing students at GW and at the Department of Veterans Affairs therapy education, and will have more screenings in the medical school next month. The film premiered last year to rave reviews.
“How you heal the wounds of war is such a big issue not only for veterans but also for their families, and this really goes to that question,” Seavey said.
The documentary center has ranked in the top 10 schools for documentary making for the past 25 years, and Seavey was named one of the top 50 journalism professors in 2012. The school offers a graduate degree in documentary filmmaking and takes in about 15 students each year.
Seavey said she chooses to work on films that can tell her audiences something about the human condition. She has directed films on everything from football and country music to disease and war.
“Each one of them is so drastically different, and that is what keeps me fresh and interested, that I am not just churning out the same thing,” Seavey said.
She said one of her next films is a project that’s been in the works for 30 years. Titled, “My Fugitive,” it chronicles the events of May 1970 at Washington University in St. Louis when protests erupted and a cherry bomb was thrown into an ROTC building.
She said her father, Louis Gilden, was the attorney for the students and the faculty who were wrongly accused.
“It impacted a huge number of lives, what happened that night, and some people never got their lives back,” Seavey said.
Seavey said she recently received a $25,000 grant from a private donor to keep her efforts going. She said she will release a five-minute fundraising trailer this summer to give possible donors a preview of the film.
“There was a lot of complication about the various people who were involved,” Seavey said. “We have the lawsuit and it will take them a while to get that whole problem of what to release, how to release and when to release it.”
Seavey said that she wants students to be inspired by the films she makes and has them focus on their own creative work instead of playing a big role in her films. She said that she loves teaching students about her passion.
“Every day I get up, I am excited. I love what I do. I love teaching my students what I love, and that is why I mentor them for so long,” Seavey said. “It feels like every day is some new surprise, and that’s how I feel about this project. That’s how I feel about all of these projects.”
Originally posted at: http://www.gwhatchet.com/2016/02/21/documentary-center-directors-film-picked-up-for-spring-release/
By Rob Owen
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Filmed partly in Pittsburgh, home to the annual Furries fest Anthrocon each summer, the new documentary “Fursonas” was made by a local man who was in the closet about his own furry status – to his collaborators and the film’s interview subjects – during the early stages of production.
“Fursonas,” available today on iTunes and other online digital platforms, begins by explaining furry enthusiasts’ interest in anthropomorphic animals from a party line perspective. The film grows more interesting halfway through when director Dominic Rodriguez pushes back against that same carefully cultivated image.
Rodriguez, 25, a 2009 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School who now lives in McDonald, began work on “Fursonas” while studying cinema and digital arts at Point Park University with fellow students Olivia Vaughn, the film’s producer, and Christine Meyer, the film’s editor.
The project began as a 12-minute senior thesis in 2012 but grew into an 81-minute documentary. Eventually “Fursonas” became a production of Pittsburgh’s Animal Media Group, the company responsible for the ABC pilot “Downward Dog” and the 2013 documentary “Blood Brother.”
The film’s first half profiles assorted Furries, including some local to Pittsburgh (such as Boomer the Dog, aka Gary Guy Mathews). It’s a fairly by-the-numbers introduction to Furries culture, the appeal of being part of the Furries community and its tendency to attract outcasts.
“Fursonas” grows more compelling once it leaves those rudimentary elements behind and begins examining furries in the media and the policies of Anthrocon and its leader, CEO Sam Conway (aka Uncle Kage), who profanely disparages any Furries who fail to live up to his expectations of promoting a positive Furry image.
In “Fursonas,” Conway advises Furries not to lie or get defensive when speaking to the media but to deflect questions or play dumb, especially if reporters inquire about the sexual side of Furries culture.
“We rely on the goodwill of the people of Pittsburgh,” Conway says during an Anthrocon panel, before threatening, in graphic terms, anyone who embarrasses the convention.
“Fursonas” introduces the founder of Bad Dragon, a company that makes sex toys for Furries, which once had a store at Anthrocon until “Uncle Kage wanted nothing to do with that,” according to one Anthrocon attendee.
Rodriguez said he was interested in Furries at age 12, and he got more into the scene as he worked on “Fursonas.” He’d never been to a Furries convention before he started making “Fursonas,” but now he tries to make it to one con per month. He has his own Furries persona, a wolf called Video, and costume.
Rodriguez said he didn’t initially share his Furries intrigue with the Furries he interviewed or with his fellow filmmakers, saying he wanted to earn their trust as a filmmaker “instead of asking like I was owed that trust.”
He also wanted to question the approach of Conway in dealing with the media and his iron-fisted desire to maintain a clean public image for all Furrykind.
“I didn’t like the way Furries in the media were portrayed; it felt exploitative,” Rodriguez said. “But I also didn’t like the response from Furry fandom, which was too much in the other direction, too PR-heavy.”
The Furry devotees Rodriguez interviews both defend Conway’s approach and question it.
“It’s an unnecessary cover-up,” says one Furry interviewed in “Fursonas.” ”If you just let things be . people might accept Furries for who they are.”
Rodriguez said the footage of Conway was culled from free online sources and mostly recorded with Mr. Conway’s knowledge at Furries-in-the-media panels at Anthrocon.
“To my knowledge, he hasn’t seen (the film) yet,” Rodriguez said. “But they don’t endorse the film because we broke the Anthrocon rules.”
Those rules include editorial review of documentaries filmed at Anthrocon, Rodriguez said. “I broke the rules because I don’t agree with them. It’s a freedom of speech thing.”
Conway said none of the Anthrocon directors have seen “Fursonas” in its entirety.
“The filmmakers declined our repeated requests to view it, and there have been no screenings local to any board member’s home,” he wrote in an email. “Based on the clips, reviews and articles that have appeared online, however, the film appears to portray the filmmakers’ own perspectives and predilections as opposed to presenting a balanced overview of our community.”
Rodriguez said when he went to register for this year’s Anthrocon, which will be held June 30-July 3 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, he learned he has been banned from the event.
“Obviously there’s a little delight in being a rebel, but I didn’t want to get banned. I wasn’t trying to cause trouble,” Rodriguez said. “It’s bittersweet. Anthrocon is in my town, it’s my con.”
Rodriguez has been screening “Fursonas” at other Furries conventions, and there may be efforts afoot to try to hold a screening in Pittsburgh to coincide with Anthrocon. (It did have one showing in Pittsburgh at the Regent Square Theater on March 10.)
“The reaction from the community has been surprisingly positive,” he said. “It’s about starting a conversation. I didn’t want to just shake things up and ruin people’s lives.
“Everybody who’s actually seen the movie, for the most part, is getting a lot out of it.”
By Meredith Clark
Dominic Rodriguez wasn’t an active member of the furry community when he decided to make a documentary about the subculture. Sure, he was intrigued by drawings of happy, human-sized animals, but his interest wasn’t deep. “I was sort of half in half out,” he told Glamour. It took Rodriguez a full two years of filming Fursonas, his documentary on furries and the sometimes complicated world of conventions, custom-made fur suits, and—shockingly—political intrigue.
What are furries? Men and women who dress in anthropomorphic suits and enjoy living lives in character as animals. But not just any animals; think elaborately constructed costumes in the style of Japanese animation, or a Jim Henson puppet, or Sonic the Hedgehog. These are fully realized alter egos that let furries express themselves and their desires in a way they couldn’t otherwise. According to Rodriguez, there are probably around a million people in the furry community, although only a few thousand regularly attend conventions and events.
Over the course of four years of filming, Rodriguez and his film crew went to the nation’s largest furry convention, met with men and women of all ages and backgrounds from all over the country, and tried to dig deeper into what it means to be a furry than just, “Do you have sex in the suits?” The answer, just like you’d find in any group of people is, some people do, but everyone’s different.
The film hasn’t been without detractors. Rodriguez told the Daily Beast last week that he has been banned from Anthrocon, the nation’s largest furry convention–one that is run by a powerful furry figure who calls himself Uncle Kage and deeply distrusts all members of the media. That doesn’t take away from the power of the film, which shows men and women looking for friendship and love, and trying to live their best lives. Glamour spoke with Rodriguez about his personal journey to accepting himself, his film, and what you should do if you’re interested in learning more.
Fursonas is available to watch on streaming services on May 10.
Glamour: How did the process of actually making the movie happen?
Dominic Rodriguez: It started with just finding people who would talk to me. Not everyone has a fur suit, so it was important to talk to people with fur suits—that showed dedication to the community. The first round was a lot of making sure they were comfortable and didn’t feel like they were being persecuted. There’s a lot of that skepticism in the community. Telling them “No, I’m not trying to spin you one direction or another. Later, when we had a history, I asked more challenging questions, and four years later, that’s how we got to where we are.
In terms of my personal story and revealing that I am a furry…they made me do it. I have been interested in this stuff since I was 12, and I’d studied it from a distance. Not something I would closely identify myself with. I’d never been to a convention before 2012, when I started filming. I knew a lot of stuff, but not that much, I was sort of half in, half out.
When I started going to conventions, I started meeting people, and certain things changed for me. For a long time I didn’t get the appeal of suits—I like drawings. Someone like Gris [one of the people profiled in the film], he just owned that suit and he was so funny and comfortable. When I invested in my suit, I got it from the same maker as he did. I started dating my boyfriend, which was part of becoming more comfortable with what I was interested in.
I didn’t tell my crew for two years that I was a furry. When I revealed it, I felt like they would never trust me again. I didn’t want to be in [the film] because I thought it would take away the legitimacy and my voice as a filmmaker. But if I expected these people to be honest with me, I had to put some of that [process] in.
Glamour: What surprised you the most after spending so many years in this community?
DR: A thing I that I did not know until I started working on the film: this is a community with a million people or so, and convention goers are small fraction, maybe only 6,000 or so. The people who do go to cons are known, [it’s] crazy that everyone knows everybody. It’s a small world, it feels like a small town, when something happens, everyone finds out of it.
Glamour: Was there anything you felt like you needed to debunk? Any misconceptions you wanted to confront?
DR: Very immediately, I knew that I didn’t want it to be exploitative, but didn’t want it to be a PR piece. I knew that some stereotypes are true and others are based on false notions. I wanted a variety [of people] and to challenge the idea that it’s one thing. The furries would be very concerned that it was all going to be the bad, sexual side of furries, or the good innocent side of furries. The biggest misconception is that it’s just a sex thing. It’s more than that for basically everyone. Eroticism is definitely a part of it. Every furry I talk to tries to give me a number, “oh it’s only X percent that’s into it for this reason.” It’s such a defensive way to deal with it. People get into it for lots of reasons or sometimes get into it for different reasons than they say.
Glamour: What’s your relationship to being a furry now?
DR: The first convention I went to for fun was in 2014, and that was tons of fun. It was almost therapeutic: “I don’t have to be on duty, [I] can just do what I want.” I have been to about 14 cons since then, especially when I got my suit. I got my suit in August, and if I could go every month I would. Something really cool about being in a suit and talking to someone in a suit is that you don’t know what you each look like. Nobody knew who I was when I started, but now my name is out there. It’s cool and also kind of scary.
Glamour: What happens now?
DR: Not even a few months ago, I said I’m not making any more furry documentaries. Now that the movie is getting out there and is starting conversations, I’m really thinking about how to follow up. I want to make more furry projects because it’s a community I want to keep taking seriously and it’s a large enough community that it matters.
When I was actually done and we premiered in Pittsburgh [Rodriguez’s hometown], everyone in my life was there, I had my suit on, and by the end of the Q&A I was bawling. I care a lot about the community and it’s great that furries are so protective of their image, they’re so sensitive about representation. It’s been really rewarding but also incredibly terrifying.
Glamour: What kind of reaction do you want?
DR: I hope that people see the furries as people—that’s why you see people in fur suits—you don’t know anything about them. It’s so easy to judge when all you have is that image. I hope they see them as people, and that the movie is about acceptance. When I started this, I was hesitant to worry too much about it having a happy ending or having a story. It was just this weird plotless thing, and what changed is how I changed. My belief is that if we just support and accept each other the world would be a better place. There’s just so much potential for people if they respect each other. Let’s keep talking about these things.
Glamour: What if someone wanted to learn more about furries?
DR: I think you know some people. I guarantee you, you know some furries. People should just check out a furry convention. My movie is the tip of the iceberg. Anthrocon is the biggest one in Pittsburgh, and Midwest Fur Fest, the second biggest convention, is in Chicago, but they’re all over, they’re everywhere. Just go check one out!
By Emily Gaudette
Documentary director Dominic Rodriguez did not know he was a furry until he was partially finished with his incredible film, Fursonas. “Whenever I talk to a person who says ‘I think I kinda like this scene or this film, but I’m not, you know,a furry,’ I know that they are. All it takes is just a little bit of interest. It’s a slippery slope because it’s such a fun community.”
Inverse spoke with Rodriguez over the phone after previewing Fursonas, which premiered at Slamdance in January, and is currently available for pre-order on iTunes. Though the average viewer may watch Fursonas expecting shocking depictions of alternate sexuality, that misconception is a product of sensationalist media.
“I can’t say for everybody, but for a lot of people, [becoming a furry] is a discovery process which grows and changes and has multiple steps. It’s not necessarily an ‘all in’ thing,” Rodriguez says. “It could be an interest in cartoons that follows you into your adulthood. You’re looking at fan art. For other people it’s about mascot-ing, and then for others it starts as a sexual thing, an attraction to the human-animal hybrid. The internet is full of furry porn so I’m sure that’s a reason at least some people get into it as well.”
The most shocking thing about Fursonas is its frank depiction of the insidious and vitriolic rhetoric used by some furries, particularly a leader who goes by Uncle Kage. Kage refused to be interviewed for Fursonas unless he was given, as Rodriguez reports in the film, a “near-editorial level of control.” Kage’s voice, however, reverberates violently through the documentary, through footage taken at Anthrocon, the largest gathering of furries in the world, which Kage himself oversees.
During the film, Kage threatens to take disobedient furries “out back and skull-fuck them,” and he calls one female furry, who appeared on The Tyra Banks Showin order to describe her experience with the fandom, “a fucking bitch.” It’s unclear in Rodriguez’s documentary how Uncle Kage rose to power among American furries. When he’s depicted as an animated humanoid, the way each of the film’s subjects are rendered (quite lovingly), Kage is a cockroach standing on his hind legs, wearing a white lab coat and holding a glass of wine.
Fursonas does a satisfying job of exploring what’s causing the furry community’s inner turmoil. Many of the film’s subjects blame the media for inconsistent, or even damning, portrayals of their culture, but the real problem for furries seems to be their aggression, which is borne out of panic. In one regard, Kage has a point. He tells Anthrocon, “we are the fat kid, we are the kid picked last in gym class.” Though many furries, including those highlighted in Fursonas, are classically attractive, talented, and “normal” looking people, they’re each marked by a lifetime of turbulent growth and introspection.
“Out of hundreds of people we asked to interview for the film, there was maybe one guy who said ‘how did you get this information?’” Rodriguez tells Inverse. “Your typical furry probably doesn’t want to talk to the media, so the people who engaged with us, in a weird paradox, aren’t the most representative of the group as a whole. I got quite a few saying ‘sorry, not interested, don’t want to be on camera’.” Many furries have been socially and systematically victimized, and they act out against this stigma, sometimes succumbing to threatening each other, and members of the media.
Positivity is what makes Fursona such a revelatory watch for non-furries. Aside from Uncle Kage, the subjects of the documentary are sensitive, effervescent, and charming. Rodriguez did a fantastic job casting a wide net, highlighting a woman who balances being a furry with being a mother, and Varka, one of the furries who owns the famous furry sex toy company, Bad Dragon. That both sections of the film are equally engaging is a testament to both Rodriguez’s storytelling, and the transcendent humanity in the furry community. Whether a furry’s interests are childlike, or decidedly erotic, each member of the fandom comes off strikingly genuine when interviewed by Rodriguez.
Somewhere around the documentary’s halfway point, I realized that I had begun anticipating the reveal of each human subject’s animated “fursona”. As a passive viewer of the film, I had accepted that each subject’s image wasn’t complete until a shot of his or her face cut to a quiet shot of an animated, anthropomorphic animal.
When the child and mother (Freya), pictured above first appeared on screen, they were heartbreakingly dancing together in their backyard, seemingly only aware of each other. Seeing their animated portrait, which flickered onscreen shortly after that establishing shot, made me exhale; here was the way the mother and daughter imagined themselves. Rodriguez and his artists had found a way to show us a furry mother’s soul, the feminine, maternal, humanoid animal she saw in the mirror.
One of the most engaging scenes in the documentary features a “mated” couple of furries, Quad and Grix, who dialogue jovially with an offscreen Rodriguez while smoking weed and playing video games. Among all of Rodriguez’s subjects, Quad and Grix are most obviously embodiments of their animation’s personality.
“You wanna know my theory as to why there was a furry uprising during the late 90s, early 2000s?” one asks, and the other nods, smiling softly. They explain thatThe Lion King, a film often cited by furries as inspirational, came out in 1993, and at the turn of the millennium, many of the fans who grew up with anthropomorphic children’s films were suddenly communicating using the internet.
It’s heartwarming to see the two men, obviously very much in love, glance sideways at each other when making a controversial point regarding Uncle Kage or the strict, prude social taboos enforced by the folks at Anthrocon. Drugs, too, Quad and Grix admit, are a great way to discern a chill, accepting furry from an unreasonable one.
Just before the film introduces Bad Dragon, a polarizing subject among furries, Rodriguez includes several clips of now-familiar furry faces smiling when confronted with the company’s name. “Yes, I know Bad Dragon,” says one woman. “We … we have many of their toys.”
Bad Dragon, a wildly successful company which produces imaginative and colorful dildos and vibrators, was banned from Anthrocon by Uncle Kage himself in order to distance the furry community’s public image from sexuality. I will even admit that I felt a rumbling of discomfort watching Varka manipulate the substance Bad Dragon calls “cumlube” in his hands.
He gushes to the camera that the lubricant can be expelled from Bad Dragon toys using a specially designed tube. It was designed, he says, to mimic the ejaculate often drawn in furry erotic fan art. What’s left unsaid here, of course, is that the semen substitute is meant to approximate animal semen, or, in a sense, the thicker, whiter, more obvious semen imagined by furries. In many instances, Varka suggests, actual human semen just doesn’t live up to the fantasy.
Fursonas is a fantastic learning tool for non-furries curious about the subculture, at once downplaying any sensationalism surrounding furry sexuality and allowing many furry subjects to comment on Uncle Kage’s strange reign.
Even more polarizing than Bad Dragon is a particularly infamous furry, Boomer the Dog, who famously tried to change his legal name to his furry name, publicizing the furry community in a sudden way many members found startling.Fursonas overlays Uncle Kage’s hateful and condescending speech about Boomer the Dog, in which he calls him “certifiably insane”, “a nutcase” and says (while the camera focuses on the frankly sweet Boomer making a snowman), “I have no idea what’s going on in his mind, and I’m terrified to find out.”
A chorus of laughter follows the audio clip, and it’s revealed that, of course, Boomer is actually making himself a snow dog. A car drives by Boomer, alone in the snow, and honks in a friendly gesture. Boomer turns, waves happily, and continues shaping his snow dog’s snout. The film ends on that quiet moment, leaving its viewers feeling not only accepting of furries, but fiercely protective of the kindest and most gentle members of the fandom.