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Duck Stamp Documentary Showcases Art Competition

How often do you think about the Federal Duck Stamp? Most duck hunters likely purchase a stamp and stick it to a hunting license that is relegated to a dark fold of a wallet.

There’s much more to that adhesive-backed symbol of our passion than meets the eye, especially when it comes to how each stamp’s winning painting is picked. A documentary currently being filmed, “The Million Dollar Duck,” focuses on the artists and the associated Duck Stamp competition. The winning painting not only creates an eye-catching stamp coveted by hunters and collectors alike, but also can be a life-changing event that jumpstarts an artist’s career.

The film’s objective is to help breathe new life into the Duck Stamp, which is required to hunt migratory birds as well as allow access to any National Wildlife Refuge. Revenue from the stamp — about $800 million since its inception in 1934 — has bought, leased and maintained more than 6 million acres of waterfowl and wetland habitat in the United States.

“From the moment I first read about the Federal Duck Stamp program, I immediately came infatuated with it. I couldn’t believe a program like this existed and that I wasn’t aware of it,” said Brian Davis, the documentary’s director. “I also couldn’t believe there wasn’t a film about it. I was so excited, I immediately grabbed my camera and jumped into filming.”

The Duck Stamp has been described as one of the most successful conservation programs ever created. However, a decrease in waterfowl hunting participation, as well as a hesitation by birders to purchase the stamp because of its association with hunting, forecasts an uncertain future for the stamp program and the wetlands it protects. Rising land costs, along with the recent failure of a congressional bill that would have increased the stamp price from $15 to $25 to adjust for inflation, add to the challenge of protecting wetlands in the United States.

It wasn’t until Davis contacted four-time Duck Stamp winner Joe Hautman of Plymouth, Minn., that he was asked, “Why are you doing this (documentary)?”

“Up until this point, I hadn’t really had time to sit down and think about it,” Davis said.

The filmmaker realized the best way to help continue the vital conservation program was to share its story with a wider audience.

“The Million Dollar Duck” delves into the history of the stamp and its role in wildlife conservation, while following seven artists as they design and paint their entries for the 2013 contest. The film culminates in a two-day juried art competition where the winning artwork is chosen for the 2014-15 stamp.

The movie was roughly 80 percent complete by early November, but filmmakers needed $20,000 to finish. Support through a Kickstarter campaign, which ended Dec. 6, generated $4,000 more than required. Although a release date has not been announced, supporters who earned copies of the film were given an estimated delivery date of May 2015.

“My hope is to create an entertaining film that illuminates this great tradition and exposes it to a broader audience,” Davis said.

To find out more about the film or watch a trailer, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1585156047/the-million-dollar-duck-feature-documentary