Film Review: ‘Fursonas’

A superficial investigation of the world of costumed anthropomorphic role play.

Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival

The fascinating phenomenon of “furries,” or people who don anthropomorphic full-body costumes for role-playing purposes, gets some — but not much — light shed on it in “Fursonas.” With director Dominic Rodriguez (apparently a sometime furry himself) perhaps assuming more familiarity than the average viewer is likely to have, this documentary leaves many basic questions unanswered while getting mired in in-fighting between different factions at odds over their community’s public-image control. Winner of a Spirit of Slamdance award, this Gravitas Ventures pickup is sure to intrigue the curious in further festival and possible niche commercial exposure. But one suspects the definitive nonfiction-cinema study of this subject has yet to be made.

“Furry fandom,” which according to some experts dates back at least to the early 1980s, can take different forms, from people paying specific homage to beloved childhood Saturday-morning-cartoon characters to those who’ve created a unique animal alter ego for themselves. The first actual furry convention was in 1989. By now, related activities both on- and offline have grown expansive enough to merit the term “lifestyle” for those sufficiently invested. (And invest they do, since custom-made furry suits can cost thousands of dollars.) But many keep their involvement secret, and prefer that others do the same. Furries have been ridiculed in popular media, and while some are upfront about admitting that sex is a big part of their individual fandom, others angrily deny any such thing, seemingly fearful of further stoking a “kinky freaks” perception.

Ironically, the enthusiast who stirs the most ire here professes no sexual aspect to his furrydom whatsoever. That hasn’t stopped Gary Matthews, aka Boomer, from enraging others, as his androgyny, eccentric costume (made out of shredded paper rather than faux fur), enjoyment of the spotlight, and attempts to legally change his name to “Boomer the Dog” (after the early 1980s NBC sitcom “Here’s Boomer”) purportedly present a “bad image” to the public. Nor is a tight-lipped faction happy with one Chew Fox, a Seattle woman vilified after she discussed furry sexuality on “The Tyra Banks Show,” or specialty manufacturer Bad Dragon, whose furry-targeted sex toys were once sold at leading furry convention Anthrocon. While many here cite the supportive, open nature of furry fandom, “Fursonas” highlights divisiveness — perhaps in part because some of the community’s self-appointed guardians are so hostile toward media attention, including Rodiguez’s own.

An Uncle Kage who chairs/organizes Anthrocon (not in a furry suit, oddly, but in “Mr. Scientist” garb) is particularly vehement in his condemnation of Boomer, sexuality discussions and anything else he sees as detrimental to furrydom’s image. He declines to be interviewed here without editorial control, but there’s much footage of him at conventions, and in an online “wine stream” where he takes questions while knocking back a few glasses. There may be some editorial revenge at work in how his rants grow increasingly unhinged during the documentary’s course, as he justifies attacks on certain individuals because “They’re not representing ME!!!” — seemingly oblivious to the notion that some furries surely don’t feel represented by his bitchy pronouncements, either.

It’s noted in passing that approximately “80% of furries are guys, and 80% of them are gay or bi.” But there’s little analysis of that, or any other larger issues regarding the who, what and why of furrydom. Inevitably, “Fursonas” entertains because of its subject matter (just try looking away when the focus turns to furry dance competitions), but in dwelling overmuch on the community’s defensive, quarrelsome aspects, it ends up providing too little insight into its basic allure.

That said, the assembly is lively, professional and (of course) cute.

Film Review: ‘Fursonas’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Jan. 18, 2016. (In Slamdance Film Festival — competing.) Running time: <strong>81 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Documentary) A Gravitas Ventures (worldwide) release of an Animal Media Group production. Produced by Olivia Vaughn. Executive producers, Danny Yourd, Kathy Dziubek, Michael Killen, Jim Kreitzburg.
  • Crew: Directed by Dominic Rodriguez. Camera (color, HD), Jordan Serra; editor, Christine Meyer; music, Kevin Piper; sound recordist, Meyer; re-recording mixers, Justin Hollis, Ken McGill; sound editors, Hollis, Kenneth Gilbert.
  • With: Boomer the Dog, Tom Cat, Chew Fox, Diezel Raccoon, Freya Fox, Grix Fox, Imaginary Skye La Lux, Quad, Illkato, Varka, Shadow Bandit, Varka.