Description from TIFF 2009 catalog by Thom Powers:
The Iditarod dogsled race is one of the most gruelling endurance tests in the world. The course stretches 1,850 kilometres through Alaska’s rugged terrain, spanning treacherous mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forest and desolate tundra. Temperatures plunge as low as negative fifty-one degrees Celsius and winds upward of eighty kilometres can cause complete loss of visibility. More people have reached the peak of Mount Everest than have crossed the Iditarod’s finish line.
At age twenty-three, Rachael Scdoris counts herself among the Iditarod finishers &”8211; even though she’s legally blind. As she sets out to compete in her third Iditarod, hoping to beat her previous time of twelve days, she faces numerous obstacles. Like all Iditarod competitors, she risks hallucinating while on the course and getting lost in the wilderness. But she’s also challenged by rivals and critics who scrutinize her every move and question her unorthodox strategies. Joining Scdoris on the trail is Joe Runyan, who serves as her “visual interpreter.” He won the race fifteen years ago. Now fresh off his second divorce and pushing sixty, he’s looking for new challenges.
Director Vikram Jayanti has always been attracted to extreme characters. He has chronicled the crime novelist James Ellroy in James Ellroy’s Feast of Death and the chess battle of man versus computer in Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine. To tell Scdoris’s story, Jayanti underwent his own test of determination, marshalling a talented crew to capture every bit of drama as it happened. Helicopter shots take in the epic landscape while a camera mounted on Scdoris’s gear lets us see what she can’t. Scdoris, beautiful and upbeat, is a hugely appealing character. She trains a hundred dogs, and knows all their names and traits. In different hands, this story could have been a simple celebration of her indomitable spirit. But Jayanti delves deeper, exploring how the Iditarod affects both humans and animals. Every day, Scdoris is confronted with tough choices about whether to push her dogs harder or to pull back. During the race, Jayanti meets her on breaks and gently questions some of her decision making. Their dialogues add another layer to this suspenseful journey, and everyone gets pushed to their limit.
About the director:
Vikram Jayanti has worked extensively in documentary as both producer and director for over two decades. When We Were Kings (96), which he co-produced, won both a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Academy Award&”174; for best documentary feature. His other credits as producer include The Man Who Bought Mustique (00) and Who Is Bernard Tapie? (01). As a director, his documentary work includes I Am a Sex Addict (co-director, 93), James Ellroy’s Feast of Death (01), Game Over:Kasparov and the Machine (03) and Snowblind (09).