Exclusive: In ‘Denali,’ Remembering a Man and His Dog

A filmmaker’s brilliant tribute to his dog is both human and humane, and shows the special bond between two friends.

There is no question that the bond between humans and dogs is special. But beyond the “man’s best friend” angle, sometimes the connection transcends stereotype, becoming spiritual. Such was the case with photographer Ben Moon and his dog Denali.

The pair found each other in 1999 after Moon paid a fateful visit to the local pound with his then-girlfriend. Soon after, the relationship ended disastrously, leaving Moon and Denali to spend the winter living out of a Subaru wagon, traveling around the Pacific Northwest photographing surfers and rock climbers. Together, they enjoyed an idyllic, if nomadic, life, as Moon’s career documenting adventurers started to take off.

Then, in 2004, Moon was diagnosed with stage 3+ colorectal cancer. While in the hospital for surgery, the nurses allowed Denali in the room. He would jump on the bed ever so carefully and lie down gently beside Moon, and during the long, brutal chemo sessions his caring gaze never wavered. To have a soul just willing to give everything and expect nothing in return was incredibly healing, and key to Moon’s recovery.

Moon beat the cancer, and soon the pair were back on the road together. Denali has been featured in countless published works, posing regally among breathtaking backdrops. Then, in 2014, Denali had his own bout with cancer, and it was one that, at his advanced age, couldn’t be fought.

One month later, he was gone. Denali was 14 years old.

As a visual artist, Moon was determined to remember, and commemorate, his lost friend’s life in the best way he knew how.

A collaboration between director Ben Knight, producer Ben Moon and cinematographer Skip Armstrong, Denali celebrates the human-dog bond and illuminates the incredible resilience we can conjure up with the help of friends. The film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice, was an official selection at Telluride Mountainfilm, and has received a Vimeo Staff Pick.

Far from a tear-jerking trip through personal nostalgia, Denali is, like its namesake, at once heartwarming, funny, devoted, and inspiring.

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