BY KATIE HEALY
“Denali” has captured the hearts of many, a humorous yet heartfelt film by professional photographer Ben Moon, honoring the 14 years of his dog’s life. Think “Marley & Me’s” shorter, better looking twin. Though only about eight minutes long, the documentary conveys a lifetime of meaningful moments between a loyal dog and a free-spirited young man living a nomadic lifestyle in Oregon. Together they face travel, illness and the beauty and wisdom that comes with old age. The tribute perfectly captures the story of Denali and how he helped his human beat cancer.
The scene opens up at an empty beach, showing a beat up van only a hippie or true outdoorsman could love. Denali, a shepherd mix, narrates their story as they travel the western states to photograph surfers and climbers, as well as do some exploring of their own, while living out of the camper van. Denali was featured many times in Moon’s work and landed magazine covers of his own due to his charming good looks.
In 2004, Moon’s health began to deteriorate and with the influence of a close friend, he decided to visit a doctor. That year he was diagnosed with stage 3+ colorectal cancer and had to be hospitalized. The nurses allowed Moon to keep his dog in the hospital room, and Denali spent most of his time sharing the bed and never left Moon’s side. Moon believes Denali had a tremendous influence on his incredible recovery.
Ten years later Denali experienced his own battle with cancer and before letting him go, Moon vowed to make a tribute to his amazing dog. He asked Denali to stick around until the end of shooting, and exactly one month later they played on the beach together for the last time. The message of the film in clearly displayed by Denali’s ending quote “There was this really smart scientist guy, he thought that people could learn a lot from dogs. He said that when someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.”