It’s no secret: We love our dogs. And I would venture to say that people in the mountains really love their dogs. Sun Dog, the latest film from Sturgefilm and DPS Cinematic, captures this unique and joyful bond between skier Santiago Guzman and his dog Conga in the rugged and wild peaks overlooking Bariloche, Argentina.
We caught up with filmmaker Ben Sturgulewski to hear a little more about the story of Sun Dog.
Adventure: You didn’t have the best conditions when you got to Bariloche. How do you deal with tough and variable conditions when you’re on the line to make a film?
Ben Sturgulewski: When you’re dealing with tough conditions, it’s all about the story. You just have to approach it from a different angle, a unique aspect that you may not have thought of before. We decided to go to Refugio Frey because it’s such a beautiful and iconic place. Even with the conditions what they were, I knew we could go there and it would be a beautiful backdrop for whatever story we found there.
A: How did the story of Conga and Santiago come about? How did the story develop while you were out there?
BS: I had no idea what the story would be for this film before we got there. I’d just met Santi and Conga and I didn’t know either of them. Our first experience was when we went to the ski resort, and he just picked her up and sat on the lift. I immediately saw a really cool connection between them. The next day, we went to the hut and I got thrown into the backcountry with the two of them and a four-hour skin up to Frey through some seriously icy and rough conditions. Even before we got there, Conga was proving to be pretty badass, and I was immediately impressed. By the time we reached the hut, it was clear that I had found my story with these two. They shared a really cool, special bond.
BS: Dogs just have this energy, and Conga’s energy was so infectious right from the beginning. So much stoke and happiness to be out there. When we got to the hut, conditions were bad. We had no snow and it was super windy, so we were bummed. But then we went outside with Conga, and she was just so stoked to be there that we caught on as well. It’s so simple, and it’s good to be reminded of that kind of pure and childlike enjoyment of the mountains.
A: You’ve been to Refugio Frey before and dealt with similar conditions. How was it going back this time?
BS: I actually shot another segment for a ski film up there. When I was working with Sweetgrass Productions, we spent a few days at Frey, shooting Solitaire. It was kind of funny. It was a similar kind of bad spring conditions, but we were able to create a really cool story then too. The first time we constructed the story around this cat named Chaz. This time it was a dog. Even though we were faced with super tough conditions, both times we found a really cool story around an animal.
A: At the end of the film, you dedicate it in memory of Chaz the cat. What happened to Chaz?
BS: Chaz was the cat we featured in Solitaire. They sort of have a rotating posse of cats at Frey. When we went back this time, Chaz wasn’t there anymore. He had disappeared into the hills. It’s kind of sad, so I decided to give him some love in this film.
A: You’ve got a pretty short timeframe to put together these films in one season. How is that working out?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
BS: It’s been crazy, but totally rewarding. It usually takes weeks or even months to put together a ski segment, but we only had three days in bad conditions and somehow we were able to create a full segment that I think is more entertaining than your average ski porn. To top it off, I edited this piece in a week. So in less than two weeks… despite all craziness and short timeframe, I think it’s my favorite episode.
A: You spun off from your former company, Sweetgrass Productions, and started Sturgefilm this year. How’s that going for you?
BS: Honestly, it’s been awesome. Really frenetic and busy, but awesome. I can do exactly what I want to do right now, which is a blessing and a curse. I’m taking on almost everything that comes my way, and there’s a lot of pressure to get it all done, but at the same time I’m challenging myself and growing as a filmmaker. Being on my own allows me to be true to myself and my creative vision in a really undiluted and pure way. I love collaborating as well, and I’m constantly working and sharing with others, but I’m really digging going after my stories in the way I want to tell them right now.
Sun Dog is the third film in DPS Cinematic’s Shadow Campaign. They’re working on a second season, so get ready for even more action in 2015.