Sponsored Project

The Million Dollar Duck

Brian Golden Davis
Mark Jonathan Harris

Every year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife department puts on the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government. Wildlife artists from around the country submit their best paintings of ducks in the hope that the artwork will grace the following year's Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as "Duck Stamps." The stamp is used for hunting licenses and for entrance to any National Wildlife Refuge. Revenues from the stamp have bought and maintained over 5.3 million acres of waterfowl and wetland habitat in the United States. Since 1934 the stamp has generated more than 200 billion dollars (*adjusted for inflation), and has been described as one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated. It is the core of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

At the center of the Duck Stamp world are the artists and the competition that exposes the ambitious, obsessive, and often eccentric nature of the participants. Roughly 300 artists enter each year in hopes of entering the upper echelon of wildlife artists. To win the contest is a life-changing event that can jump start an artist's career overnight. Although the federal government does not provide any prize money, the artists are able to generate lucrative deals from the re-licensing of the stamp image on special edition remarques for collectors, along with mugs, calendars and other merchandise. The publishing of the image generates millions for the winning artist, and that's how the stamp earned its nickname, The Million Dollar Duck. The film follows seven characters as they design and paint their entry for the 2013 contest, and ends with a two day juried art event where the winning duck is chosen for next year's stamp.