Amalgamated Mediaworks LLC

Chicago, IL

The Dogs of El Niño: The Madeline Island Sled Dog Race


“Dogs are like people. They like to be ASKED to do something. If you ask them instead of telling them, it boosts their confidence, and they run faster.”  So says dogsled racer Mark Dunlap in “The Dogs of El Niño: The Madeline Island Sled Dog Race,” a documentary by Cyndi Moran and Eric Scholl. Madeline Island, a tiny speck of land in Lake Superior, is tourist Mecca in the summer. In the winter population shrinks to 200. But for one weekend in February, the human and dog population increases considerably.

“The Dogs of El Niño” takes place in an unseasonably warm year, the year of El Niño. The ice road to the island is melted, but that doesn't discourage the mushers who assemble for the race. We meet Arne Engstrom, a 60-ish farmer and county commissioner, who started racing after recovering from brain surgery, and tells how it helped him overcome grief over his daughter's death. Bill Smith, a musher who 'owns no dogs but scoops for 60,' proudly displays a polar bear bite mark on his dogfood-stirring paddle. Sharon and Larry Brunzlik own 30 dogs, and their 16-month old daughter toddles nonchalantly in the chaos of the wagging huskies.

“The Dogs of El Niño” is a character study about people with a profound respect for nature and a great love for their animals. It’s also a story about the things people do to keep from going crazy over a long, icebound winter.


Funded in part by a Faculty Development Grant, Columbia College

Funded in part by a Special Assistance Grant from the Illinois Arts Council.

Selected for biennial "Pitch to PBS sessions, Association of Independent Video & Filmmakers, 2001.


Soundtrack by Stuart Rosenberg.

Festivals and Screenings

2002         Wisconsin Film Festival, Madison, Wisconsin, April 2002 - World Premiere.

2003         SIMA TV Festival, Tehran, Iran, November 2003

2003         Chicago Filmmakers

2003         Minnesota Historical Society

2005         Ole Muddy Film Festival, Trempealeau, Wisconsin