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Marty Stouffer (1948–)

Martin Luther Stouffer Jr. is a documentary filmmaker best known for his Wild America PBS television series involving endangered wildlife. Whereas many previous wildlife documentarians focused on filming in exotic locales in other countries, Stouffer primarily filmed in American locations in order to raise awareness of the plight of these animals.

Marty Stouffer was born on September 5, 1948, near Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and grew up there with his parents, Martin Sr. and Agnes, two brothers, and a sister. Stouffer Sr. owned Arkansas Rebuilders Supply, which supplied auto parts for rebuilders.

According to Stouffer, his parents encouraged him to explore the natural world; the woods and wild areas near his home awoke a love of nature in him, and his experiences with wildlife and nearby hunters and trappers awoke in him a desire to protect and preserve wild animals and wild spaces. He also developed an interest in photography and film early on, which began with filming home movies and led to making short films about his experiences hunting deer and eventually to making wildlife films.

Stouffer attended the pre-law program at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), majoring in English and graduating in 1970. One summer break in June 1967, he went to Alaska to film wildlife. During a snowstorm, Stouffer became stranded in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, where he survived due only to his hunting skills. The resulting film of his trip was a turning point for Stouffer, and he began showing it to friends and family and eventually screened it for audiences. Following graduation, he used the film to land a job making a promotional film in Africa for Oryx Safaris, a safari company, from June to November 1970. This experience further reinforced his distaste for trophy hunters, who slaughtered hundreds of animals while many native Africans starved. Up to this point, Stouffer had also been a hunter, but when he returned from Africa, he lost interest in hunting and focused his energies on educating the public on wildlife preservation.

Several commercially unsuccessful wildlife documentaries followed until 1982, when Stouffer brokered a deal with PBS to produce Wild America, a series of thirty-minute episodes. The show ran for thirteen seasons and 120 episodes until it was canceled in 1996 amid controversy and without funding. Much of the controversy stemmed from Stouffer being fined $300,000 for illegally building a trail near an elk migration route in a Colorado national park. Several past crew members and animal suppliers also came forward to allege that Stouffer staged scenes in which tame or restrained animals were used as bait to attract predators. Stouffer denied any wrongdoing and called the allegations “character assassination.” Stouffer continued to work in wildlife filmmaking and preservation. In 1988, Crown published a book based on his early life, titled Wild America. In 1997, he produced a film adaptation of the book, also titled Wild America, which starred child actor Jonathon Taylor Thomas.

Stouffer married Diane Michelle Dale on August 25, 1979; they have a daughter and a son. As of 2008, the family lives near Aspen, Colorado. In 1999, Stouffer turned his attentions to creating sculptures based on wildlife. Stouffer continues to direct wildlife videos, including a new project entitled Incredible Animals, and has undertaken a philanthropic dissemination of the Wild America film and video collection aimed at schools and other charity and education organizations, tentatively titled “The American Wildlife Project.”

For additional information:
Stouffer, Marty. Wild America. New York: Crown, 1988. Online at http://www.wildamerica.com/wildamericabook.pdf (accessed January 27, 2013).

Tayman, John. “Wildlife: Marty Stouffer’s Apocryphal America.” Outside (June 1996). Online at http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/Wildlife--Marty-Stouffer-s-Apocryphal-America.html (accessed January 27, 2013).

Whiteman, Lily. “Violence, Lies and Videotape: Wildlife Filmmaking Takes a Few Liberties with the Truth.” E: The Environmental Magazine (May–June 1997).

Wild America. http://www.wildamerica.com/ (accessed January 27, 2013).

C. L. Bledsoe
Ghoti magazine

Last Updated 1/27/2014

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