“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.
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