Manuel Jan owns the last working taxidermy shop in Toronto.
Blind in one eye, and suffering from chronic vertigo, he continues to prepare and mount animals while reflecting on his future, his unconventional diet and his mortality.
Writer/director/producer: Vuk Dragojevic
One of the first things Manuel Jan told me after I nervously walked into his cluttered shop in Toronto’s east end is that he sometimes eats squirrels.
He also told me he opened his small shop in 1973 when there were over 40 taxidermy studios in the city. His Mountain Lion Taxidermy is now the last. He told me he is blind in his right eye.
I once asked him if we could count all of the animals, or ‘mounts,’ in his shop. He got tired at 100 but, in fairness, it was an impossible task.
He also had a full basement, three large freezers and several piles of assorted stuff – a kind of layer cake of unidentifiable parts at the bottom of which I could only imagine there was something sinister and mushy. No need to count those.
In addition to the finished mounts, there were also skins, pelts, rugs, heads, bones, horns, tongues, real teeth, fake teeth, glass eyes, anatomical forms, as well as a variety of tools for cutting, tanning, sculpting, skinning, drying, carving, waxing, gluing, screwing, sewing, grooming and painting.
There were also roughly 300 used coffee cups and two hunting rifles.
Manuel’s business was disintegrating, as was his health – the result of 50+ years of handling arsenic with his bare hands. This toxic chemical was used in the alchemy that turns organic creatures into still, inanimate objects. Manuel claimed that he was the last person in North America and Europe to still use it in his work.
Two years after I first spoke to Manuel, I ended up with this film about artistry, loneliness, death and, ultimately, about what happens when you are poisoned by your craft.
Oh, and a simple recipe for a squirrel dinner.
About Vuk Dragojevic
Vuk Dragojevic is a Serbian-born interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker based in Toronto.
He holds a BFA from OCAD University and has shown work in festivals and exhibitions in Canada, Italy, England and France.