For those outside of Canada, click here to watch the full short documentary Underdog on YouTube.
A Japanese expat prepares for a 1000-mile dogsled race to fulfill her mother’s dying wish.
Yuka Honda is a dog musher, a profession that most often conjures up images of burly, bearded men. She's an anomaly: a woman who crossed the globe to start her own dog team in the snowy trails of southern Alaska and the Yukon territory. Yuka works three jobs in the summer to support herself and her 27 sled dogs. A far cry from her native home in Japan, the 43-year-old lives south of Yukon’s capital in a one-room cabin she built herself. Her dog yard sits a mere 15 feet from the door and when you enter the cabin it is clear that both the sport and the dogs make up most of Yuka’s world. It has been Yuka’s goal to complete the Yukon Quest ever since she started running dogs, 17 years ago.
The Yukon Quest, a 1,600 kilometre dog sled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon remains the longest and toughest dog sled race in the world. Dog mushers endure up to -50 celsius weather, snowstorms, frostbite, 16-hour stretches of darkness and long days of racing. Honda's first attempt running the Yukon Quest in 2006 ended with the US airforce rescuing her and five other dogsled teams from Eagle Summit in the middle of a snowstorm.
2016 marks Yuka’s fifth attempt at running the Yukon Quest — she's only crossed the finish line once — and more than any other race, Yuka is determined to complete. Yuka’s mother died in the fall of 2015 after a long battle with cancer and her dying wish was for Yuka to complete the Quest in 2016. The request came after years of her mother struggling to understand Yuka's dog sledding 'addiction,' and marked a new chapter in their relationship.
Underdog follows Yuka's internal struggle to find the strength to compete while still grieving the loss of her mother. The beautiful and very intimate connection Yuka has with her dogs is a key focus in the film as Yuka moves through the process of training and preparing for the race.
Written, Directed and Produced - Vivian Belik & Naomi Mark
Director of Photography - Naomi Mark
Sound Recordist - Vivian Belik
Editing - Vivian Belik & Naomi Mark
Additional Camera - Neil MacDonald, Marty O'Brien, Dave Selle
Aerial Photography - Darren Susin, Jassin Godard
Colourist - Jayden Soroka
Sound Mix & Design - Jordy Walker
Composer - Jordy Walker