We challenge you to find a better adventure partner than a dog. "They're one of the greatest motivators to get out there," says Ben Moon, a Portland-based photographer and filmmaker whose new online short film Denali is going viral. "It's like, hey let's go for a walk, let's play outside. A dog is a commitment for sure, but it's a beautiful one."
The film stars Denali, Moon's husky-pit-mix. Originally, Moon had set out to create a film about the juxtaposition of his love for the ocean and for the mountains. But the lead cinematographer of that film quickly picked up on the special relationship that Moon had with his dog. "He said why don't we make this film about you and Denali," says Moon.
But Denali wasn't doing well. He was 14-and-a-half years old. He'd battled cancer in the past and now his kidneys were on the fritz. I was ready for him to pass, says Moon. However once the film project was started, he asked Denali — a friend that had done so much for him over the years — for one last thing: "I asked 'could you please stick around for a few more weeks?' And he did, almost to the hour," says Moon.
Moon got Denali as an eight-week-old puppy. His then-girlfriend had wanted a dog, but Moon had reservations. "We had just moved to Portland and I didn't really want to have a dog in the city. We went to the pound kind of against my will.
As Moon walked through the shelter, all the other dogs howled and barked. But Denali just cocked his head, put his paw up on the kennel door and let out a single whimper. "It was the most adorable thing I'd ever seen," he says. "I really felt like he chose me. He was my dog from that moment on."
A year later, Moon's life imploded. He broke up with his girlfriend. He left his previous career path in sports medicine and hit the road with a camera. While family and friends might have questioned Moon's seemingly capricious life choices, Denali was a constant — and nonjudgmental — companion.
Over the years the duo went on an endless series of adventures. While Moon would surf, Denali would stand on the beach and bark at him. When Moon was diagnosed with stage three-plus colorectal cancer, Denali stayed with him through all of his treatments. "His intuition during that time was kind of amazing. He's jump gently into my bed and pick his way around my IV lines," says Moon.
Denali died within days of wrapping up filming. After his death, the footage sat for nearly a year while Moon tried to get the script right. Everything felt either too trite or too sappy or both. "It was scheduled for release last year but it just didn't feel right to me," he says. Eventually Moon turned the film over to Ben Knight, the filmmaker behind the award-winning documentary DamNation.
When Knight sent Moon the video in its current form, Moon knew it was finally right. "I was obviously bawling all over my phone; he exceeded all of my expectations. I had felt like there was no way I was ever going to do justice to our friendship but he managed to do it."