has been called the Federal government’s most successful program ever. It is
also maybe the most aesthetically pleasing. Frankly, the Federal Duck Stamp
does not have much competition on either score, but it still deserves all due
credit. For nature artists, the annual stamp art contest represents the brass
ring as well. Brian Golden Davis follows several participating artists in Million Dollar Duck (trailer here), which screens at
the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival.
waterfowl hunter has been required to buy a Duck Stamp for their license since
1934. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar go to fund wetland preservation.
Rather than resent the cost, hunters have embraced the conservation goal and
the classical, Audubon-style art. The Feds do not actually cut the winners a
million dollar check. In fact, there is no prize money involved, but the
winning artist retains all licensing rights to their paintings, which can be
the contest helped establish artist Adam Grimm early in his career, but now
that he is married with three young children, he could really use another Duck
Stamp boost. Yet, he and fellow artist Tim Taylor still work collaboratively to
scout and photograph ducks in the early development stage. Like many wildlife
artists, their friendship was forged during their time spent at the annual
contest. Frankly, it can be a harsh process, incorporating elements not unlike the
withering early rounds of American Idol.
Yet, there is something to be said for making it so public and above-board.
introduces us to several other contest regulars, including the Hautman
Brothers, whose collective wins earn them comparison to the New York Yankees.
There is also a decent blood feud running between the likable Taylor and the hipster-provocateur
Rob McBroom. You can always recognize his submission. It will be the one with
the glitter. Along the way, we also meet artist Dee Dee Murry and her blind
painting dachshund Hallie (who sadly passed away before the film’s premiere),
so MDD definitely covers its
feel-good animal bases.
it or not, the Duck Stamp competition, as documented by Davis, is enormously
tense and shockingly cinematic. By the same token, seeing the artists’ passion
for nature and the extended community they have built around the contest will
give the audience all kinds of good vibes. There was a brief throwaway line
about the Duck Stamp contest in the original Fargo film but Davis and screenwriter Martin J. Smith (partially
adapting his book The Wild Duck Chase)
give it the full treatment it deserves.
In recent years, the war on hunters has cut into
Duck Stamp sales, ironically hurting their waterfowl prey, so it is worth
noting you do not have to be a hunter to buy a Duck Stamp. They are available
to any and all collectors. Million Dollar
Duck could drive some business their way. It is highly informative, but
also rather warm and fuzzy. Recommended conservationists and those who
appreciate a handsome duck portrait, Million
Dollar Duck screens again tomorrow (1/26), as part of this year’s
Labels: Documentary, Federal Duck Stamp, Slamdance '16