Sled dog industry insiders ask film festival to pull controversial doc
A documentary about the sled dog industry premieres this weekend at the Whistler Film Festival, but the film is so controversial that some are asking organizers to pull it from the schedule.
The director of the documentary, titled "Sled Dogs," says she expects the 82-minute film to shock the Canadian public.
"When they see this film, I think they're going to be really upset because no animal should be treated like this,” said Fern Levitt. “No animal should live its life at the end of a chain."
The idea for the film came to Levitt when she heard about the slaughter of nearly 100 healthy sled dogs in Whistler after the Olympics in 2010. So the director decided to examine the whole industry, heading to Alaska to film the Iditarod, the most famous sled race in the world.
She didn’t like what she saw – particularly dogs living in small shelters and spending much of their day on short chains.
"For them to say that these dogs are somehow different than regular dogs and therefore can be treated differently... well, that simply isn't true,” said Levitt.
But people who work with sled dogs in the racing and tourism industry say the film is inaccurate and one-sided and that’s why they want it pulled from the film festival.
Frank Turner runs Muktuks Adventures, a sled dog business just outside of Whitehorse.
He is the only Canadian to ever win the 1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest, an annual race through the Yukon and Alaska.
And despite the film's message, Turner says anyone who mistreats their dogs won’t last long in the business.
"Whatever success you will have in those races will depend on the care that you take of your dogs,” said Turner. "Being in the team for the dog is like being in the pack. It's a natural instinct. It's when they're the happiest... When they're in that team."
The Whistler Film Festival says the documentary will air as planned Saturday evening.
"We are comfortable that this documentary is well researched and gives voice to different points of view," reads a statement from Paul Gratton, the festival’s director of programming.
"As very few people have screened the film prior to its upcoming World Premiere at the Whistler Film Festival, we believe that certain members of the commercial dog sled industry may be reacting to online trailers, which are designed to sell tickets. We are confident that once the film is screened, many of the concerns expressed by the commercial dog sled industry may be alleviated or at least somewhat mitigated."