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Tree-planting camp dogs stars of new documentary film Block Dog

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Tree-planting camp dogs are front and centre in a new documentary, Block Dog, from filmmaker Everett Bumstead.

The film, which lands on CBC Gem on April 19, follows the daily lives of the loyal camp canines and their human companions. Through the dogs and their people, viewers are given an on-the-ground view of the internal politics of a tree-planting camp and the realities of the forest industry in B.C.

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Filmed near Quesnel, the 44-minute film comes from the same crew behind the tree-planting documentary One Million Trees (2020), and Forest for the Fires (2024), a music-driven forestry film that challenges contemporary forestry practices.

Postmedia reached out to Bumstead and asked him a few questions about Block Dog.

Q: What is a block dog?

A: A block dog is a dog who spends its days on a cutblock — an area harvested of trees which was previously forested land.

Olive the dog in the film Block Dog
In his new documentary Block Dog, filmmaker Everett Bumstead chronicles the lives of eight dogs in a remote tree-planting camp in the Quesnel area. Here Olive overlooks a planting site. Photo by Kenrick Block /Here Boy Films

Q: Are any of the dogs in the film yours?

A: No, sadly none of the dogs are mine. Luckily, as a filmmaker I get to live vicariously through the dog owners and develop friendships with their dogs. The Australian Shepherd named Ary featured in the film, however, is almost identical to my childhood dog, Taz, and that was part of the inspiration for the film. I do hope to adopt a dog one day soon.

Q: Why did you want to tell this story?

A: From my own experience as a planter, I realized there is something special about the life of a tree planter’s dog. The lifestyle requires them to be well behaved, disciplined, and also to face the elements; weather, wild animals, terrain, etc. These dogs are warriors.

This film was inspired by the same curiosity we all have: what does our pet get up to while we’re away at work? Except my work was tree planting in remote places in B.C., and I was wondering what kind of adventures these dogs were up to in the forests while I was planting in the cut block. The dogs would come back with an old bone from a moose, or covered in mud, or scratches from battles, and that is what inspired the creation of Block Dog.

Filmmaker Everett Bumstead
Filmmaker Everett Bumstead is seen here working on the film Block Dog. The new documentary begins airing on April 19 on CBC Gem. Photo: Kenrick Block Photo by Kenrick Block /Here Boy Films

Q: What do you hope a viewer takes away from this film?

A: Of course, there is the timeless story of human and animal connection, the immeasurable value of working dogs — these are the first things I hope an audience will take away. But I also hope people will take in the peripheral. In Canada, our resource extraction industries operate in places that so few of us ever get to visit. There is so much more going on in the bush than most of us realize. I hope this film can be a small window — through canine eyes — into a lesser-known side of the forest industry.

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Q: An old show-business adage is never work with kids or animals. What was the hardest part about making this film and focusing on the dogs?

A: The most difficult part of working with the dogs was trying to get them to stop breaking the fourth wall. Every time we would direct our cameras down to dog level it would disrupt the moment. At first we had to develop relationships with each dog, offering them treats and pets to gain their trust. But then we had to ignore them for a long time (which is not easy for an animal lover) before they would carry on without reacting to our cameras.

Other times we wanted them to look in the lens, like when we were filming a scene with a dog’s head out the window of a truck while driving, we zap-strapped a treat onto our camera rig to keep Olive and Frida looking forward.

Olive the dog from the film Block Dog
Olive relaxes after a long day in the woods near Quesnel. Olive is part of the cast of Block Dog a new documentary that follows the lives of eight dogs in a remote tree-planting camp in the Quesnel area. Photo: Kenrick Block Photo by Kenrick Block /Here Boy Films

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