Fern Levitt, director of “Sled Dogs”

by | Jul 26, 2017

Fern Levitt—the director of “Sled Dogs,” a documentary that provides a behind-the-scenes examination of both the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and commercial operations in Canada and the U.S. that provide opportunities for recreational dog sledding—recalls how one of those recreational outings she took with her husband, including seeing that the dogs are kept outside and chained nearly 24/7, planted the seeds of the film. sethsachsonAn experienced filmmaker, Levitt recalls embarking on a careful journey of research into the dog sled world, an undertaking that dovetailed with the grim news breaking about a sledding operation in Whistler that decided the solution to being severely financially strapped at the end of the season was to kill 100 dogs. Levitt explains that she settled on four interweaving story lines—a puppy being trained as a sled dog in Ontario, a novice musher preparing for Iditarod, the sled-dogs-1024x348aftermath of that Whistler, and a dog sledding enterprise in Snowmass, Colorado—to drive the narrative of “Sled Dogs.” Across those four storylines, Levitt notes, a key theme emerges: the horrors accompanying laws that dictate that animals can be considered “property” and, therefore, can be treated any way their owners and handlers see fit. “Sled Dogs” has generated some controversy and criticism (including from the novice musher), partly related to the way Levitt has framed her storytelling—she observes that dogs_1her mission was to present an eye-opening glimpse into the dark world of sled dog operations and the Iditarod, seeking to free the dogs from their chains and get them into homes. She balks at my suggestion that the way she executed this mission constitutes advocacy filmmaking, maintaining that she simply made a documentary. Whatever way “Sled Dogs” can be categorized, it’s already achieved significant results with the spotlight it shone on the dark corners of the Iditarod: Both Wells Fargo and State Farm announced they were pulling their sponsorship of the famous race. (http://sleddogsfilm.com, www.facebook.com/SledDogsFilm)


ALSO: I spoke briefly with Don Goldstein—the “Talking Animals” official greyhound correspondent–about a surprising decision made last week by Florida gambling regulators that allows a Miami dog track to halt greyhound racing while continuing to operate their lucrative card rooms and slot machines. Unfortunately, as Goldstein explains, this decision results from a singular confluences of laws and geography, and does not carry broader implications for ending dog racing in Florida.

COMEDY CORNER: Jim Gaffigan’s “Animal Lover” (www.jimgaffigan.com)

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: We didn’t play Name That Animal Tune today.


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