Phillips says trailer misportrays business

Danny and Gina Phillips, the owners of the Krabloonik dog-sled and restaurant operation in Snowmass Village, are joining a chorus of other mushers in criticizing a new documentary.

Danny Phillips, one of at least four locals in “Sled Dogs,” is shown briefly in the trailer for the film, saying that he wouldn’t be in the business if it wasn’t humane.

He and his wife bought the business from the late Dan MacEachen in 2014 after he was charged with eight counts of animal cruelty, sparking outrage. MacEachen, who owned the business for 40 years, pleaded guilty last year to one of the charges. He died earlier this year.

The Phillipses implemented a host of changes that appeased animal advocates, including additional exercise and time off-tether, improved kennels, the changing of its breeding habits, and instituting an oversight committee to ensure best practices are being followed.

Still, when director Fern Levitt called him last year about participating in “Sled Dogs,” Danny Phillips said he was hesitant. But she assured him that because the documentary was being funded by the Canadian government, it would fairly portray both sides of the sled-dog industry.

“Otherwise she wouldn’t be funded,” Phillips said Thursday, citing what Levitt told him. “She said it would be a fair and honest film. I just totally bought it.”

When she first arrived in January 2015, she praised the Phillipses “for how happy and well cared for the dogs are,” he said. “She never showed a clue that it was an anti-dog-sledding film.”

Filming then and again in March 2015, Danny Phillips said the only footage she could have gotten was of “happy and fun dogs.”

He said his heart sank when he watched the trailer for “Sled Dogs” last week.

It starts out with cheerful music over footage of the beginning of the famed Iditarod race in Alaska.

The trailer features comments from Patrick Beall, a musher who told the Alaska Dispatch News that he too feels duped by the filmmakers.

More ominous music plays as the trailer displays the words Snowmass, Colorado in a large font, but Phillips said it then cuts to a kennel that he knows nothing about.

“I’m just really disappointed,” he said. “It was supposed to be this spectacular thing, a celebration of the accomplishment of making the changes with the kennels [and] the acceptance of the community.”

Former local resident Doug Allen, who fiercely criticized Krabloonik during MacEachen’s scandal, is interviewed.

“That whole town up there runs as a good ‘ol boy network,” says Allen, a former Aspen Daily News columnist, referring to Snowmass Village.

MacEachen is shown in a GrassRoots TV clip telling the town council that he had done nothing illegal.

A woman’s voice is heard saying the industry is an “abomination.”

Seth Sachson, executive director of the Aspen Animal Shelter, is also featured in “Sled Dogs.” He said the trailer devastated the dog-sledding community.

“Fern lit a fire underneath” it, Sachson said. “They view sled dogs as their family and exercise companions, not just possessions that are staked in the yard.”

But he said he understands Levitt’s point of view as well and considers her a friend. Spending several days with her for the film — Sachson owns six former Krabloonik dogs and participates in dog-sled races around Colorado — he said Levitt “was quite impressed by Danny’s operation in contrast to many” others.

On Wednesday, she emailed Sachson another trailer that features him. He believes it may be an effort to soften “Sled Dogs,” which is to premier at the Whistler Film Festival next month, amid “the aggressive and defensive and offensive stances the dog-sledding community is taking.”

Dog-sledding is a wonderful sport if done humanely, Sachson said.

Levitt told The Aspen Times in 2015 that she was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to make the film, after the 2010 culling of sled dogs at a business near Whistler. Efforts to reach her about the controversy were unsuccessful.

The trailer ends with Allen saying, “Wasn’t it Mahatma Gandhi who said society is judged by the way we care for our animals? If that’s the case, we’re in deep, deep, deep s---.”

Mayor Markey Butler was also interviewed for the documentary, Phillips said.

Bland Nesbit, like Sachson, is a member of Krabloonik’s oversight committee. She said the trailer makes the business look pretty negative.

“That wasn’t the impression we got when she came here to film,” Nesbit said. “I was kind of bummed when I saw that. They’re misrepresenting Krabloonik for sure.”

Members of the oversight committee met recently about the business and also make unannounced visits periodically. They have been satisfied with how it’s operating, Nesbit said.

“They’re doing a great job up there,” she said. “It’s like night and day. The dogs are calmer, and they look great.”

The Phillips have responded by starting a social-media campaign protesting “Sled Dogs” and have sent letters to the Whistler Film Festival explaining mushers’ lifestyles.

The filmmakers “just really lied to us and the community to make a one-sided film,” Danny Phillips said. “You can see the impact of a film like this. … It was just like a betrayal. You know the struggle I’ve gone through, and the community knows where I’m at today.”

chad@aspendailynews.com