What do you do when you’ve grown up as a member of a subculture that the mainstream media has insisted on exploiting and misrepresenting your whole life? If you’re a furry in the second decade of the 2000s, you crowd source and make a film about it—which is exactly what Dominic Rodriguez did. What began as a thesis project soon revealed itself to be much more and grew into Fursonas, a feature length documentary that is beautiful to watch both for its visuals and the mindful approach it takes as it explores the multifaceted furry community.
Rodriguez doesn’t shy away from asking the uncomfortable questions and the result is a nuanced film that both explores and educates. The film opens with various furries preparing their costumes and assuming their “fursonas” as they get ready for Anthrocon, the largest furry convention in the world. It follows its subjects over the span of four years and provides the viewer with an authentic glimpse into their worlds, allowing the “person inside the suit” to speak out and tell their truth.
Gravitas Ventures will release the film on VOD and across all other digital platforms on May 10, 2016, but I had the opportunity to preview the film and speak with Mr. Rodriguez about it. Read on for the full interview.
What was your inspiration for making this film?
There were two, the first being I needed a senior thesis project. It started as a short film that I made for college and was expanded upon in subsequent years to make it what it is today. I was working with the producer, Olivia Vaughan, who wanted to make a documentary, and we needed a subject. This was around the time that Anthrocon was going on, which is the biggest furry convention in the world, and it’s in Pittsburgh. The previous idea we had fell through, so I brought the crew to Anthrocon and said “let’s just try this, let’s just see if there’s anything here."
The second is that I’ve been a furry since I was 12 years old. It had been very much a personal thing, not something that I cared to share with other people but I always wanted somebody to make a documentary about this because I thought that every piece I had seen on it had failed to do justice to the complexity of it. It was always either an exploitative or an apology piece, which I didn’t want to do.
When did you start the film? How long did it take, and what was your budget?
We started filming in 2012 and it was 4 years of filming, off and on. The last couple of years became more of a full time thing especially with editing, which was very much an everyday thing. The budget varied a lot over the years but it did start out as an Indiegogo fundraiser for about two grand. In 2013 we got a grant for ten thousand dollars from The Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh innovation foundation, which helped immensely in making the entire film and allowing for more reach. That was what allowed me to travel to Arizona to follow up with one of the subjects that moved. The third step in all of this was when we officially became a part of the production company Animal. They gave us a lot of support such as sound design, color correction, etc. and provided legal support which was a huge bonus. It was definitely a grueling process with very humble beginnings.
I ask because it’s inspiring to know that if someone feels their story isn’t being told, or told well, the option to tell one’s own story via the DIY route seems more available now than ever.
Yes, I think it’s such an exciting time for independent filmmaking. You can actually make movies now. Almost all of our stuff was DSLR cameras and equipment that anyone could get. I love that we’re in an age where this is possible.
How and when were you introduced to the furry community?
I got into it when I was an adolescent, like 12, 13, and that was very much from my growing up with the Internet, I think. There are so many different stories of how people got into this but I think what is common is that they grew up with the Internet, and also porn, you know what I mean? I liked art and porn and all that furry stuff, you know? That’s why I’m maybe not the best PR person for the film because that’s just what I was into. Also, I didn’t go to conventions so I didn’t really know what the social side of furry was like. I knew that there was art, and I knew there were people that wore suits and got together and did...I didn’t know what, exactly. I didn’t know how many stereotypes were true. Back then it was a personal thing. So in 2012, when we went to Anthrocon, that was my first convention, and I went into it half in, half out. I knew enough from my side of it, but not enough of everybody else’s.
Oh, so when you started shooting it was also your first time there.
Yes it was. It had been years that Anthrocon had been going on and I always wanted to go but was too embarrassed.
So your experience was more independent?
Yeah, and I think a lot of furries are like that, in the sense that there are about (this is my guess) a million furries out there, but if you want to try to define furry generally I’d say it’s “an interest in anthropomorphic animals.” That’s the broadest way to put it and that’s the only thing that everyone can seem to agree on as a definition. Anthrocon is the biggest convention ever, and there are 6,000-plus attendees there. The people who go to that convention, that’s a very small fraction of what the whole community is. A lot of the community is online and independent; it’s people meeting each other through the Internet.
The film does a great job of dispelling the fetish stereotype surrounding the furry community and showcases how nuanced the community is. I heard the word fandom used a lot, could you explain what that is for those that are not familiar?
It’s essentially geek culture with people that are very much interested in or fascinated by an idea to the point where... ok I think for fandom you look at Star Trek and the people who follow it. They’ve seen every episode and they care a lot about it and go to Star Trek conventions. That’s a fandom. There are many others, like sci-fi, horror movies, or anime. What makes furry fandom unique, and why I like to use the word “community,” is that furries don’t have a source material in the way that Star Trek does. There’s a common enjoyment of Disney movies and things with cartoon animals, but in the furry fandom people have created these fursonas, which are their own characters that people become fans of. The person you’re the biggest fan of is someone that you can just meet at a convention and be friends with online and talk to and get art of you together, with your character. It’s a community because it’s tighter, and it’s not like there are people that you can’t approach; everyone can be friends with each other.
What was it about the furry fandom and the community that appealed to you?
At first I had no interest in anything other than art on my own. I didn’t need to meet other furries. As I started working on the movie it was the acceptance and the openness of the community that appealed to me. When you go to a furry convention there’s this instance that’s so cool: You’re wearing a suit and you meet someone who’s wearing a suit and you hang out and you talk all day and you’re messing around and just walking around and being silly, and then later you go to this lounge where you take your heads off, and then you’re like, "Holy shit, I didn’t even know what this person looked like," but you’ve truly met this person and there’s something so cool about that. I think that extends to the Internet where you also meet people’s fursona first…you meet their character. That’s what I like about fur-suiting.
Do you feel that there are similarities between L.A.R.P.ing, CosPlay, and the Furry lifestyle. If so, what are they?
Across the board the similarity is apparent when you look at them; it’s people dressing up in costumes and walking around and getting into silly adventures. The main difference would be, again, that there’s no source material. I think furry seems to be more of a sense of identity. Say you’re a fan of a TV show, that’s not necessarily a thing you wear. You’re not like, “I AM a Breaking Bad fan, and that’s who I am.” With furry it’s very common to just say, “I am a furry, are you a furry? I AM a furry,” and it’s a thing that you wear as this identity, which is why a lot of furries will make this effort to distance it from a lifestyle and call it a hobby and “don’t make it weird. Don’t turn it into more than it is.” I think that calling it just a hobby is doing it such a disservice because everyone in it, for the most part, really does care about it and takes it seriously.
The portraits of each person in the film are compelling. What led you to choose each subject? How much did you know about their personal lives before this?
Because I didn’t know anybody, my criteria was people that dressed in costume, since there are furries that don’t have a costume. A costume is very visual, cinematic, and it shows dedication and passion if a person is going to take that step and buy or make something and put it on themselves. There’s this known furry database on the Internet and I started sending emails, hundreds of emails, to every fur-suiter that I came across and just said “Hey, I’m making a furry doc, do you want to be in it?” About half of them got back to me and were interested, half of them just didn’t email me back, and the list kept getting smaller until it became the people I could conceivably travel to with the budget that we had, who also offered a bit of diversity. I did my best, but it was mostly who was available. When I saw that somebody was a mother, that felt important, and I have a mother, a college student, somebody who’s retired. A lot of people think that I went out of my way to find somebody like Boomer, but the thing about Boomer is he lives 20 minutes from my house and was the closest one to me. In the second half there are people like Varka, the guy who works with Bad Dragon, and some of the others that I sought out specifically because I thought that they were needed in order to tell the story that I had begun to tell.
The film dispels the idea that there is only one way to be or one type of person that participates in the furry community. Was this your intention?
Absolutely. I remember that an early title for the film was “Fursona,” which my editor suggested and I said it was a horrible title. Then for the student film I suggested “Fursonas” and she said “Well isn’t that just my title with an S on it?” And I agreed but it’s also totally different. Which goes to show how much an editor actually has the idea and the director takes all of the credit for it, ha. It does make a difference though because this film is about fursonas. This is about more than one but not even all furries. It’s these furries.
What is the most popular animal/fursona chosen? Is there a reason for this?
In my experience foxes are by far the most popular; however, I’ve heard that wolves might be more prominent. I think that canines tend to be popular which may have something to do with people growing up with dogs and they’re friendly and people tend to identify with them more. I’ve personally never met anybody that’s food; no cows, chickens, turkeys. But there’s always somebody who is something unique. Choosing my own fursona didn’t feel like much of a choice, it just felt made for me. I tried to go for something more unique but a wolf just felt right and I tried not to overthink it.
What does one’s fursona say about them?
It SO depends. Some people will compensate. If they’re shy, for example, they might choose a stronger animal. There’s also times when you see someone in their fursona and that’s just their personality. Sometimes it’s the opposite of who they are, or who they want to be, and sometimes it’s just the way they are. I think it calls to question how much someone likes themself and wants to be who they are and who wants to be something different.
What is your fursona, and what drew you to it?
I am a wolf, and that’s simply what felt right. I’ve always been into horror movies, which had the werewolf and stuff like that going around in my subconscious and I wanted my fursona and suit to be really naturally colored. Skye/the dancer, said something I really like about his fursona, which is this grey fox. He chose not to have a lot of crazy colors because “he wanted the personality of the suit to come from him,” and I relate to that. When I have my suit on, my personality is very talkative and silly and I wanted that bubbliness to come from me and not just the look.
It was mentioned casually in the film that the furry community seems to be dominated by males. Do you feel this is true? Do you feel that it is an accepting space to those that identify as female?
Absolutely accepting space, no question. Anybody can come into this and there’s going to be a million counterexamples for what he’s talking about. A lot of magazines have latched onto that as a serious statistic.. I will say that if I were to pick a furry at random I’d probably find a *cis, probably gay, white male. But again, there are so many counterexamples to that and it’s certainly a place where anybody of any identity is welcome. Of all of the communities I’ve been in this is the most accepting, and that’s what I like about it.
I noticed that there was a dance competition that seemed to be a high point of the Pittsburgh convention. What's the story on that?
The dance competition is awesome and there’s a fursuit and non-fursuit one. The fursuit one is the most popular. What’s really cool about that is Skye, the guy who’s in the movie, reached out to us because he thought it was cool that we were shooting and asked to be in it because he didn’t know anyone. In 2013 he won the dance competition, at the biggest furry dance competition in the world, and now he’s the ultimate. Everybody knows Skye and it’s cool because we got to see him flourish.
Have you felt any backlash from the community while or since creating this film? Can you describe?
Definitely. Furries are and were very skeptical of the film because they feel that they have not been portrayed positively or accurately in the past. So when they see things, especially interviews, they snap to judge, assuming the worst. Luckily, the screenings that I have done for furries have gone well. I did one in San Francisco for 40 furries and I was terrified, but it went really well. Whether people like it or not, it’s starting a conversation and that’s what matters more than anything. Getting people talking about this idea. People who are most angry about it are the ones that haven’t see it.
Of course. What do you hope people will take away from this film? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I think the movie’s theme is acceptance and getting to know people and seeing these people not just as furries. I think you can accept lots of things if you just get to know people. And of course, see the movie. It premieres on iTunes on Tuesday, May 10. But as far as really getting into this, my movie is just the tip of the iceberg. My movie is these furries, it is not all furries, and if you want to know more, go to a furry convention. They’re in every major city, every month, and it’s worth it to mention that you’re going to get to know people. People will be nice to you and they will talk your ear off about furries so if you want to learn more, just start talking to furries.