A film about wildlife... and one wild life. New Zealand filmmaker Costa Botes’ "The Last Dogs of Winter" (2011) tells the story of Canadian dog handler Brian Ladoon’s struggle to preserve the Canadian Eskimo dog, or Qimmiq, the rarest registered breed of dog in the world. The film received standing ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011.
Formerly relied upon by the Inuits for transport, technology and cultural shifts have rendered the Canadian Eskimo Dog redundant. After the introduction of petrol-powered skidoos, the population dwindled from tens of thousands to just a few hundred remaining dogs in the 1970s.
Based in the small community of Churchill, Manitoba, Ladoon has been working to save the Canadian Eskimo dog since 1976. This documentary captures his fierce and outspoken determination. Ladoon’s efforts have inspired both admiration and fierce criticism - largely because his colony of dogs share their pitiless natural environment with itinerant wild polar bears (Churchill is known as “The Polar Bear Capital of the World”), and his practices are seen by some to be inhumane.
Botes’ documentary also features Caleb Ross, a former kiwi actor (who has stints on "Xena" and "Shortland Street" among his credits). Newly arrived in Canada, Ross came across a job posting in his hostel that read “Come to Churchill, breed Eskimo dogs, see polar bears.” At the time of filming Ross had been working with Ladoon and his dogs for three years.
“Filming with a lightweight HD camera and only his wife as crew (a job that required her to drive a pickup truck down vast stretches of icy road and carry a gun with rubber bullets to be prepared for rogue polar bears), Botes intercuts artfully shot interviews with spectacular outdoor scenes. Among the most captivating are those of the chained dogs interacting with the curious bears, and the lumbering white bears gamboling with one another in the snow... Fine sound design and musical effects support the visuals, as does Thom McLeod’s atmospheric score.” - Variety
Botes, who headed the film as director/producer/editor/cinematographer, is an esteemed name in New Zealand film. His previous projects include "Forgotten Silver" (1995), "Saving Grace" (1998) and "Candyman" (2010), among others.