November 30, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Filmmaker tackles a Dog Gone Addiction 

Becky Bristow’s film tells the story behind the women mushers of the Yukon Quest

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Standing on American Summit, a windswept, snowy mountaintop sparsely colonized by mangled and stunted ice-plastered trees stuck in the frosty Alaskan air at 3,420 feet, Becky Bristow panned the landscape with her video camera to capture the pastel mauves and pinks of the northern sunset.

From a distance she heard the jingling of dogsled harnesses, and as they drew closer, the panting of 14 huskies and their musher’s exerted shouts as they crossed over the cold, lonely summit en route from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon.

This was but one of 31 such teams that bounded from the start line of the Yukon Quest sled dog race — known as the toughest sled dog race in the world. One thousand miles of frigid northern wilderness. Ten thousand feet elevation gain. No substitution of dogs. If a racer kills a moose en route, they must salvage the meat before continuing. Fastest time the race has ever been won: 7 days, 7 hours. On average, one out of three racers doesn’t finish. Some years it’s half the field.

“On American Summit, the sun was setting, you could hear the dog teams coming from a long way away,” Bristow recalled. “I watched the sun set for a long time, there was ice on the trees. It made me realize the beauty of the place they were seeing with their dog teams, and why they do it.”

Why they do it was a question that drew Bristow to spend six cold weeks of the 2004 winter capturing the racers’ journey on camera to create Dog Gone Addiction: Inspired by the Women of the Yukon Quest , a 67-minute adventure documentary that’s part of the 2007 Whistler Film Festival lineup.

The film features three women — seasoned veteran Kelley Griffin, and rookie mushers Agatha Frankzac and Michelle Phillips, who is cheered on by her four-year-old son Keegan — and their four legged teammates who answer to such names as Ferdinand, Malachi, Daisy, Zippo and Denali.

The film also showcases the unfettered northern landscape, a frozen world of sturdy forests, bare willow bushes and icy riverbeds through which the sled teams pass, so tiny amidst that wilderness that when filmed from a helicopter the only clue to their presence comes with their movement.

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