Dee Dee Murry, of Centralia, is one of the artists shown trying to win the coveted spot on the Federal Duck Stamp of 2013 in the quirky independent film “Million Dollar Duck,” airing on Animal Planet on Sept. 14.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — In the documentary film “The Million Dollar Duck” (airing Sept. 14 on Animal Planet), the Federal Duck Stamp Contest is referred to as “the Super Bowl of wildlife art.”
And just as there are colorful characters in every Super Bowl, the artists featured in “Million Dollar Duck” are the definition of quirky characters. One of them is Dee Dee Murry, of Centralia.
Not only is Murry an artist who enters the contest annually, but in the film she’s featured alongside her blind, beret-wearing, long-haired dachshund, Hallie, also a painter.
‘The Million Dollar Duck’
9 p.m. Wednesday on Animal Planet.
“I thought I had a pretty good year last year with my art,” Murry says in the film, “but my blind dog sold more art than I did.”
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The Duck Stamp is a revenue generator that sells for $25. It’s not a postage stamp, but a stamp that’s required of all waterfowl hunters 16 and older, and also grants the bearer free entrance to national wildlife refuges. Proceeds from the stamp are used to acquire and conserve such refuges. Since the stamp’s inception in 1934, $800 million has been collected to protect millions of acres.
Each year there are about 200 entries in the contest, which is adjudicated by five judges who evaluate the art based on the accuracy of the duck subject and its habitat. The contest has no monetary award, but at one time artists could earn more than $1 million licensing their winning entry.
Director Brian Golden Davis made the film, which chronicles the 2013 contest, independently. Animal Planet, which was looking for character-driven films that highlight conservation issues, bought “Million Dollar Duck” after it screened and won awards at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah in January.
“We had this film that was a quirky film about all of these great, passionate wildlife artists and it had themes of conservation and it was character-driven,” Davis said.
Murry was key among those characters. Davis was looking at photos of duck- stamp entries with another regular entrant in the contest and saw a picture of Murry with her dog on her shoulder.
“When I saw the photo, something attracted me to her and I didn’t know the dog painted [at that point],” Davis said, noting the mix of people who enter the contest. “There are hunters and pure animal lovers who would never hunt and she represented that [latter group] for me.”
Murry, who paints in acrylics, works from her Centralia home, painting pet portraits and wildlife and doing photography. She never painted ducks until the contest but she appreciates the super-realism required.
“Every little piece of feather [has to be painted], which is a challenge for me because I don’t normally choose to paint ducks,” she said. “Part of the fun is going out and getting photos of ducks.”
She’ll often visit Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Washington or Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia.
She won the 2015 Delaware Duck Stamp contest with a portrait of a golden Labrador retriever and a pair of ducks winging across the sky.
Davis said he always knew the film would focus on quirky characters, but he never wanted to mock those featured in the movie.
“The rule I used was if the person I’m interviewing knows it’s quirky, then it’s cool,” he said. “Dee Dee knows she’s a crazy dog lady. When I met her and we came up to shoot [in Centralia], I said, ‘Everyone will think you’re a crazy dog lady,’ and she said, ‘Well, I am a crazy dog lady, so that’s totally fine.’ When that happens you’re not taking advantage of someone or making fun of them because they’re in on it.”
Murry said when Davis first contacted her via email, she thought “The Million Dollar Duck” film project was a scam. Then she heard from other entrants in the duck- stamp contest who vouched for Davis as a legit filmmaker.
“I thought he did an incredible job,” Murry said of the finished film. “He didn’t make me look like too much of an idiot at all, so it was great.”