National Geographic to film Yukon Quest for documentary

Posted: Wednesday, February 06, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A National Geographic documentary crew will follow teams in this year's Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, making a one-hour film to be broadcast later this year.

Organizers of the thousand-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse say they are pleased with the exposure the film will bring.

''This is what we've been reaching out for and trying to get,'' said Layne St. John, executive director of the Yukon Quest. ''National Geographic has a great worldwide reputation. For the Quest to continue to grow with any less of a struggle we need to start getting worldwide recognition.''

The race needs the exposure to attract sponsors to increase the purse and attract more entrants, St. John said.

Forty-two mushers are signed up for this year's race, which begins Saturday in Fairbanks. The first musher to reach Whitehorse will win $30,000.

''This is the kind of thing that has disappeared from so many places, but it's still alive in Alaska,'' said Nigel Zega, filmmaker for Natural History New Zealand, the company producing the film for National Geographic. ''It's one of the last great adventures out there.''

The idea to film the Quest came to Zega when he was in Fairbanks working on another project and he was exposed to sled dog racing.

''It's a wonderful combination of people and animals in the backdrop of spectacular environment,'' the filmmaker said.

The film will document the race from the point of view of a race veterinarian, Zega said.

''I feel it will give us insight into the emotional intensity of the race,'' he said.

Quest head veterinarian Margaret Terhar welcomes this.

''For a lot of people who aren't part of sled dog sports intimately, there's always that question of, 'How well are these dogs cared for?' By focusing on the vet program, we as a race and as a sport can show the world that these dogs receive excellent care on the trail,'' Terhar said.

Sound engineer Mervyn Aitchison said the plan is to get as close as possible to the action and drama of the Quest while trying not to bother or anger the mushers or Quest officials.

''You don't just hang back 10 or 20 paces,'' he said. ''You've got to get those intimate sounds.''

Natural History New Zealand has become a sponsor of the Quest and is providing it with some of its footage in exchange for the Quest's cooperation.

Race manager Adam Berg said the Quest hasn't put any special constraints on the film crew.

''We're not censoring them,'' he said. ''We've got nothing to hide at the Quest. We have the best vets in the world. We have the best judges. Dog care is our No. 1 concern. That's what they're going to pick up on the film.''

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