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review

Still from documentary film Sled Dogs.

However you feel about commercial dog sledding, Fern Levitt's Sled Dogs is bound to rankle – either because of the material itself or the filmmaker's take. The documentary takes a critical look at Alaska's Iditarod race and commercial sled dog operations. The dogs seem happy and healthy as they pull sleds through picturesque winter landscapes, but behind the scenes, we see another story. An Ontario musher tries to train a reluctant puppy; a Colorado operation tethers dogs in a dusty compound that's compared to a concentration camp. Elsewhere, dead sled dogs are piled in a shed. There's gruesome footage of carcasses being dug up after Whistler's post-Olympics sled-dog slaughter. These scenes are obviously upsetting. But whether they're typical or representative is another question; many mushers say they're not and take issue with Levitt's portrayal. So does Patrick Beall, the rookie Iditarod musher featured in the doc (which he hasn't seen), who says he was misled about the filmmaker's intentions. Anyone who has enjoyed a touristy dog-sled ride may feel similarly about their experience after seeing this film.

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