The final weekend of the 21st Anchorage International Film Festival takes place this weekend and among the favorites in the Made-in-Alaska category is a Vermont director’s first documentary effort starring a dairy farmer. from Vermont with a strange and romantic longing for The Last Frontier.
‘Underdog’ will be playing Friday at 5 p.m. at the E Street Theater; he couldn’t have avoided his title even if director Tommy Hyde wanted to play the role of mushing dog dreamer / and languid fourth-generation dairy farmer, Doug Butler wears the show in a documentary which Hyde describes as ” sport in part, but really a character film in the tradition of the cinema-verite. ‘
“I took a course in college and went to the community and wrote a little story with a video about a local character and made mine about this dairy farmer who lived on the outskirts of town, ”Hyde said of his first meeting with Butler. . “At the end of the course he and I remained friends and over the years I learned about Doug’s dream of mushing in Alaska and also learned that he had never left the farm anymore. five days of his life. “
That would soon change as Butler would find the courage to make the 3,000 mile trip to Alaska in 2018 with 22 of his favorite dogs in tow, all to participate in a dog mushing event in Alaska. Butler did not qualify for the Iditarod, but did compete in the North American Open in Fairbanks.
“His goals were pretty modest – he just didn’t want to be the last. He came second to last, ”Hyde said. “He’s a lovable loser type, sort of known for singing and dancing and for his incredible ability to drink Budweiser while mushing.” He just has an infectious joy that the Alaskans, while we were racing, really appreciated. He really resonated with them.
But the story behind the underdog goes far beyond an adorable long-term sports story, as Hyde discovered during the filming of the documentary.
“We had several breakdowns on the Alaska Highway,” Hyde recalls. “Doug took a truck that looked like a 1992 and had 300,000 miles. But the big surprise was that Doug found out he had to sell his family farm. It was completely unexpected and it kind of highlighted the fact that mushing and dog breeding were inextricably linked for Doug. They were two examples of someone’s duty and someone’s escape, happiness.
Hyde said being forced to sell the farm could have been a blessing for Doug.
“If he hadn’t been forced to sell it, he probably would have gone to work until he died… Depression, isolation. His relationship with his dogs helped him get over that, ”Hyde said. The film argues that Doug has an agency moment and chooses to leave the farm for a month to go to Alaska gives him the prospect that the inevitable sale of his farm – which was completely unexpected – so that he doesn’t fall. not the road that so many farmers in his community have.
Hyde said the story beyond the film had a happy future as Doug now runs a dog mushing team outside of Middlebury, Vermont.
“I have to give Doug a lot of credit. I was really nervous when the movie premiered the other month and I watched it and I thought, oh my god, I don’t really have the right to be nervous. He bares his soul in this documentary… In Alaska there is this pioneer and libertarian mentality where guys don’t really talk about their feelings and that is also true in rural Vermont, ”Hyde said. “This is an incredibly brave act by Doug. He gets emotional, but he truly believes in the power to help others go through some of the same things as him. His motto in the film rings true: his theory is that “NO” means “next opportunity”. Whatever the situation, he has an incredible and limitless optimism… This has a certain resonance in the pandemic where many of us are isolated, lonely due to forces beyond our control. Doug’s journey is to face this and reap a little bit of happiness. “