Based on the depth of your love for animals, “Sled Dogs” may prove one of the more disturbing documentaries you’ll ever see — if you can endure it. This gripping exposé of the dark side of the commercial dog sledding industry, particularly as it pertains to Alaska’s annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is a horrifying heartbreaker.
On its surface, the 1,049-mile, Anchorage-to-Nome Iditarod is a celebration of athletic prowess and stamina pairing committed mushers, handlers and veterinarians with beautiful, elite animals that, it’s claimed, are born to compete amid the sport’s brutal conditions.
But is this highly profitable event and tourist magnet simply, as one observer here puts it, “the tip of a very dirty and cruel iceberg?” So agrees director Fern Levitt, whose cameras intimately capture the Iditarod’s many tentacles, from the grueling race itself to the dubious, at times shocking, yet largely legal methods used by breeders, trainers and kennelers. Inclusion of a 2010 incident in Whistler, B.C., in which a reported 100 “unprofitable” sled dogs were killed and buried in a mass grave, contains excruciating archival footage and details.
Levitt’s access to a wide swath of spokespeople on both sides of this highly charged topic provides much to stir, anger and enlighten. But it bears repeating: This vital doc is tough sledding.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica