Mushers await release of documentary criticizing the sport

Alaska mushers are waiting for the release of a Canadian-made documentary film that is purportedly damaging to sled-dog racing. Parts of the film were made with the help of Iditarod resources, yet early reports of the film’s content indicate it is actually an indictment against the sport.

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(Photo by Zachariah Hughes/KSKA)
Iditarod teams race to overtake-one another heading-toward Cripple. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/KSKA)

The film, Sled Dogs, was directed by an accomplished film producer and director, Fern Levitt. Levitt is an instructor at the Toronto Film School, and has a 20 year body of work behind her of films detailing serious social issues ranging from de-segregation in the US to a Canadian view the Holocaust.

So, why sled dogs? Levitt received $400,000, Canadian, from the Canadian Media Fund to produce the film, although the targets of the film are primarily two kennels: one in Whistler, BC, the other in Snomass, CO. The film is expected to make its debut at a December film festival in Whistler, Canada, although a trailer for the film can be viewed on YouTube.

Dire voice-overs set the tone for the film, which seems to be linked with a now inactive website publishing a list of sled-dog kennels in Alaska, and accompanied by an unabashed plea for money to fight sled – dog kennel operations in both countries.

Fern Levitt zeros in on Dan MacEachen, a Snomass CO kennel owner, once an Iditarod musher, who was charged with animal cruelty in 2013. Other footage shows abuses at a Whistler, BC kennel, with gut wrenching scenes of mud splattered dogs on four-foot long chains, with only a plastic barrel for shelter.

According to an article last year published by the Aspen Times, Levitt was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to produce the documentary because of a high profile case of dog – culling at a Whistler sled dog kennel.

The Times article said, “Levitt has been commissioned to find dog-sledding businesses in the U.S. and Canada that are managed as Levitt said, in a ‘humane responsible manner.’”

The trailer, which was posted on YouTube, does not indicate if the film includes any humane mushing examples.

Levitt did not respond to an email for comment, nor did Iditarod Trial Sled Dog Race executive director Stan Hooley.

A website touting the film was apparently was taken down on Tuesday.

APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone.
Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA
elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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