The Strang Ranch in Missouri Heights this year will host the National Sheepdog Finals in September.
Carbondale’s Crystal Theater will show the documentary “Away To Me” to kick off the event at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Filmmaker Andrew Hadra, who lives part-time in Park City, Utah, didn’t know sheepdogs and their expertise but learned plenty when he was invited to the Soldier Hollow Classic trials near Park City a couple years ago. He was immediately captivated.
“Some friends told me about this nearby ‘herding championship’ that was some sort of dog event. (I knew) nothing about working dogs or the sport of sheepdog trialing. From the very first ‘outrun’ we witnessed, when the dog leaves the handler’s post and runs out to take control of the distant flock of sheep, we were completely hooked. Simply mesmerized. It was stunning,” he said.
The 98-minute films “The intelligence, instinct and athleticism the dogs demonstrate are almost literally unbelievable,” Hadra said. potlights three participants in the 2011 competition: five-time Canadian national champion and North American champion Amanda Milliken; South African national champion Faansie Basson; and Californian Haley Howard, who is a two-time U.S. champion.
The competition tests dogs’ ability to run out from the handler and find a group of sheep, gather them together and move them through widely spaced gates. The dog then places them in a circle where the handler works with the dog to split the group and delicately work flighty sheep into a pen.
“The intelligence, instinct and athleticism the dogs demonstrate are almost literally unbelievable,” Hadra said.
The dogs, border collies originally bred in Scotland to herd sheep in rough country, respond to spoken or – when they are hundreds of yards apart – various whistles, to more right, left, stop or return. As Basson explains in the film, “The dog must listen because he wants to and he respects you. You can walk out (of the competition) losing, but you still feel good about the dog.”
Hadra, a one-time real estate developer from Newport Beach, Calif., turned to filmmaking and graduated from the University of California’s film school. The sheepdog trials were a natural subject for a documentary, especially after following the Soldier Classic for a few years.
He also liked that there were differences with how the three humans related to their dogs. For Basson, who has a working sheep ranch in South Africa, his dogs are colleagues rather than pets.
Milliken’s top dog Roz is a constant companion. And Haley Howard’s dog Ross is all business.
Although the film is focused on the Soldier Hollow Classic, it is really about the relationships between these handlers and their dogs, Hadra explained.
The documentary was filmed in Canada, California, South Africa and the mountains of Utah.
“I hope that people take away that same sense of awe and amazement from experiencing a sheepdog trial through the movie that I myself experienced when I first saw a trial. While it’s nominally about sheepdog trials and working dogs, the movie is really about the incredible, universal bond between man and fog. It’s about how deep and truly magical that relationship is.”
Soldier Hollow as well as the Meeker Classic culminate in the National Finals, which will be held this year at Strang Ranch.
Tickets for the film are $10 at the door, which opens at 4:45 pm.
“The intelligence, instinct and athleticism the dogs demonstrate are almost literally unbelievable.”