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Yukon MP concerned Sled Dogs doc was funded under 'false pretences'

Larry Bagnell says promotional material for the documentary Sled Dogs, posted by the film's production company before its release, doesn't seem to match the actual film, which he has not seen for himself.

Larry Bagnell says promotional material for Sled Dogs doesn't match actual film, which he hasn't seen

A team heads out at the ceremonial start of the 2016 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters )

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell says he's concerned that a documentary about dog mushing may have been funded under false pretences.

Sled Dogs — which debuted earlier this month at the Whistler Film Festival — has come under fire from mushers who say it portrays them and their sport in a highly negative light.

The film's producers received more than $400,000 from the Canada Media Fund (CMF), and Bagnell has directed his concerns there.

The CBC's Documentary Channel is also planning to air Sled Dogs.

Larry Bagnell says he's spoken with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly about the documentary Sled Dogs. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Bagnell says promotional material posted online before the film was released does not seem anything like the film that debuted earlier this month in Whistler, though he has yet to view the film for himself.  

"I've asked the Media Fund to review and see if the money they put out — even though it's mostly private sector money — if it was put out on false pretences, if it was put out on that description. And if it was, they should consider revoking the funding," said Bagnell. 

Bagnell said he began looking into the film even before he was contacted by prominent Yukon musher Michelle Phillips, who is calling on politicians to denounce the film. 

Bagnell said he's concerned that Yukon sled dog owners are being unfairly maligned and there could be a negative impact on tourism. Bagnell said he's also spoken with the minister responsible for the CMF, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, about the matter.

MP Larry Bagnell says promotional material on the production company's website doesn't seem to match the film that was released earlier this month. (CCI Entertainment)

'Exhilarating look' or 'provoking exposé'?

The independent production and distribution company CCI Entertainment has described the film on its website as "an exhilarating look into the world and culture of the North American dog sledding industry. This film will take the audience on a majestic ride showing a more intimate view of this widely popular tourist attraction."

Promotional material for the Whistler Film Festival, however, described the film as a "provoking exposé of the cruelty to dogs that permeates the commercial dog sled operations that supply sled dogs for such famous races as the Iditarod in Alaska."

The film's director, Fern Levitt, says in a statement on the film's website that she came to the subject with an open mind, and then found that people in the sled dog industry look at it "through rose-coloured glasses."

The CMF is looking into the complaints about misrepresentation by the filmmakers. It's also said that Levitt and CCI Entertainment are respected within their industry.

Two different promotional blurbs for the film. The one on top is from the film's website, and the one below is from the Whistler Film Festival's program. (CBC)

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