Pittsburgh-area filmmakers’ documentary on 'furries' to be showcased in national film festival
January 15, 2016 12:00 AM
From left, Christine Meyer, 25, Dominic Rodriguez, 24, and Olivia Vaughn, 24, will have their documentary "Fursonas" featured at the national Slamdance Film Festival in Utah later this month.
More than 1,000 people turned out in fur suits to participate in a parade at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown as part of the annual Anthrocon gathering in 2013.
A furry named Goku poses on Mount Washington. Goku was in Pittsburgh to attend the annual Anthrocon gathering in 2010.
By Shannon M. Nass
When three Point Park University cinema students set out to make a 12-minute short on “furries” for their senior thesis four years ago, they never expected it to evolve into an 80-minute documentary that would debut at a national film festival.
But as Christine Meyer, Dominic Rodriguez and Olivia Vaughn delved deep into the world of fursuits and make believe, they said they felt they needed to keep going to do it justice.
Using the hours of footage they filmed over the years while working on their project, the three filmmakers expanded the documentary to offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of various members of the furry community.
The world premiere of their film, “Fursonas,” will take place Jan. 22-28 during the 22nd annual Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Launched in 1995 as an alternative to Sundance, the Slamdance festival will feature 20 titles for its narrative and documentary feature film competition programs.
Mr. Rodriguez, a graduate of Upper St. Clair High School who wrote and directed the film, said he chose furries as the topic because it was intriguing and something that he had only looked at from a distance.
Furries are people who enjoy dressing up and crafting their own “fursonas” — or simply just admiring — anthropomorphic animal characters.
Their journey began at Anthrocon, the world's largest furry convention that takes place each summer in downtown Pittsburgh. They chose subjects for the film through an online database using criteria such as proximity to the area, age range, and, of course, a cool fursuit, Mr. Rodriguez said.
As they began meeting people, Mr. Rodriguez said they soon realized there was much more behind the masks. And over the next few years, the trio traveled all over the country, immersing themselves in their subjects’ lives.
They spent four days in Arizona with a furry named “Diesel,” who is featured in the film and preferred only to be interviewed in a raccoon fursuit.
Initial interviews were followed up with two or three more visits over the course of several years.
Their break came when the film was picked up by Animal Inc., a production and visual effects studio Downtown, where Ms. Meyer and Ms. Vaughn, both of Bloomfield, had interned. Animal produced the documentary “Blood Brother,” which won two prestigious awards at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Rather than answer the question as to why some take on a furry persona, Mr. Rodriguez said he hopes the film helps viewers get to know the furries as people.
“At the beginning of the movie, they’re all just furries to you. But by the end, they’re all these different people and they have different values,” he said. “I feel like if you got to know the real people, then it almost wouldn’t matter why they did it.”
Ms. Meyer said furries often feel misrepresented and misunderstood and that those who aren’t in the furry world tend to think of them as a joke.
“It is a playful, fun thing, but these are people who are exploring themselves and their creativity,” she said. “It’s also a good social outlet and they don’t like their social outlet being seen as vapid and stupid.”
As they prepare to head to Park City for the screening, the filmmakers said they are excited and nervous about the reaction of the audience to their film. Mr. Rodriguez said he is most excited about the reaction of the furry community since every piece of media that comes out about them is hotly debated.
Joining them will be the entire film crew and Boomer the Dog, a local furry who is a main subject in the film.
“The energy and adrenaline will be insane,” said Ms. Vaughn, the film’s producer. “It’s going to be a very special screening.”
In the end, Mr. Rodriguez said the film is about acceptance – self-acceptance, acceptance of others, being accepted in a community – and asking questions.
“There’s a thirst to try to understand different parts of life, not just within the furry world, but within yourself and the people around you,” Ms. Meyer said. “Once the movie ends, I would like for people to reevaluate things that they’ve judged previously and re-think it. I think the movie leaves people asking more questions.”
For more information on the local premier of the film, visit www.fursonasdoc.com or the “Fursonas” Facebook page.
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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