Pictures taken during the shooting of BERGEBYLØPET N70: a FrameFactory documentary produced by Joseph Corvino and Filippo Palmesi

Trøms region in the north of Norway
Northern Norway

“All you have to do is look him in the eyes. The desire to go, to explore… can you see it? To go back to our origins, to challenge the wilderness, where danger can be hidden around every corner. But experience has taught him what to do. In his eyes there’s no fear or recklessness. What I see is wisdom. Setting yourself some goals and, once you’ve reached them, trying to surpass your limits. And if experience isn’t enough, there’s always instinct.”

(from our documentary)

Sunset over the Varangerfjord

Varangerfjord, in the extreme north of Norway. Here sunrise seems to be more south than east.


When you fly over the Trøms region you realize that you’ve already left the Arctic Circle behind you. Beneath us there are only islands and frozen mountains that form fjords and canals, in the midst of which penetrates a cold and dark blue sea.

Joseph and I are headed towards the Varangerfjord coast, in the northernmost tip of Norway. After a few months of preparation, we are finally about to start filming a documentary on a sled dog race.

Two seats ahead, Sergio Maffi, a veterinarian with a great deal of experience in this field, examines the race schedule to fine tune the last details. We owe it to Sergio and his enthusiasm if we managed to undertake this project. Before leaving, we spent several evenings in his clinic, studying maps and the territory. He’s going to be the Chief Veterinarian of Bergebyløpet N70 and wants to be prepared for whatever might happen. His experience in North America and Scandinavia has taught him to predict at what time the fastest teams will start as well as when the slowest ones will arrive. It will be a long-distance race: 650 kilometers. Check points where one can stop to rest are found every 50-60 km, but stopping for a break isn’t always mandatory. This means that some mushers (the sled drivers) will decide not to stop in the evening and go on driving their sled even at night.

Nighttime shooting turned out to be one of the biggest issues for us. FrameFactory, our studio, is an independent production company and this means not having vans to use for transporting our equipment, nor any way of connecting the lights required to film outdoors. Perhaps not many people know that documentaries are filmed by very “basic” film crews, made up of a videographer who carries all the equipment in a backpack: essential lenses and a good supply of batteries, because electricity might not always be available. Despite this, the idea of filming at night thrilled us and we believed that it would be key to making the viewer really feel the wildness of this race. Equipped with led flashlights and head lamps, we were to go into the woods to wait for the silent passage of the sled dogs.

Joseph, next to me, looks at his watch. In about half an hour we will be landing in Kirkenes. From there we will rent a car and travel towards Vadsø.

Bergebyløpet N70: The only long-distance sled dog race held above the seventieth parallel, beyond the Arctic Circle. 650 km along the Varangerfjord, on the frozen river Tana, among tundra and through Varangerhalvøya: a polar area, different from all the other landscapes in the Country.

Siberian huskies ready to run at Bergebyløpet N70

We meet Mikal Lanes for a cup of coffee. Mikal is one of the organizers behind this event and gives us all the details we had not been able to discuss in depth in our e-mail conversations. He shows us on a map the best points along the race course from which to film the sleds: the route on the frozen river, the wooded area north of the fjord and Varangerhalvøya, a vast expanse of snow, bare and characterized by a polar climate. Here, if the Barents Sea should brew up a storm, the situation for the teams would become highly dangerous.

When caught in a snowstorm, as we are told by Kristian Sirkka (the owner and manager of Sirkka-Gården, founded by his father), you have to be wise and prepared. The only way to save your life and the lives of your dogs is to stop, cover the animals with blankets, give them something rich in calories to eat to help them endure the night cold, turn the sled upside down and crawl under it until the storm calms down. Visibility in a snowstorm can drastically reduce to only a few meters and you have a good chance of getting lost. These weather conditions can make it very hard for the dog to proceed on an unbeaten trail, increasing the risk of fatigue and muscle and joint injuries. A good musher knows his dogs well, and knows when it is best not to put them in danger and withdraw them from the race.

In this documentary we wanted to show this aspect and the relationship that exists between the men and the animals. There is a sense of reciprocal respect that is very deep.

On our first day of filming the teams are starting the race from the ex-military base of Nyborg. We decide to anticipate them and, thanks to Sven Are Utse, one of the event organizers who during the trip on the van tells us about his Sami origins, wait for them along the Tana; it’s the river with the greatest number of salmon in all Norway and was one the most important resources for the ancient civilizations that used to live here, but during the winter it freezes over completely and can withstand the weight of cars and vans. Huddled on the snow, we are surprised at its vastness. Rather than a frozen river, it almost resembles a valley. I change my camera’s telephoto lens and place the tripod on the iced ground. In the meantime, Joseph turns on the drone for the aerial shooting. He has to be ready to make it take off as soon as he sees the teams since, because of the cold, the batteries will last only a few minutes. Fortunately the teams don’t take long to arrive.

sledding in the snow

The first check point is Bonakas. Several teams have already arrived and the mushers are taking care of their dogs. Each driver receives a few bales of straw to spread out under the dogs to make them a bedding that is warm and insulated against the icy ground. Then they light a fire and hang a pot of water over it. They’ll use it to thaw the frozen meat or pour it over the dry dog food, as if it were broth, to warm it. While the water reaches a boil, the musher devotes time and attention to his dogs. Each one.

You can feel the strong relationship existing between man and dog. Even the veterinarian team has no doubt about it and has highlighted this aspect during the interviews we conducted. Alaskan huskies, Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes are dogs with specific physical characteristics and personalities. Pulling a sled and running for extremely long distances at 30-40 degrees Celsius below zero is something totally normal for them. “It’s incredible how much they love to run, dive into the snow…”, tells us Tone-Lise Kristiansen, one of the race veterinarians. And it’s incredible to see their enthusiasm when they know they’re about to start the race. Linked one to the other through necklines and towlines according to an orderly hierarchical scheme, they leap straight up in the air and bark out of sheer excitement. Sometimes, Sergio explains, the most skilled musher is the one who can keep the dogs calm at the starting line, so that they don’t waste precious energy right away.

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and the sun is setting behind a hill covered with woods. A large brazier heats up the darkness and a few mushers, after having eaten a warm meal in the cafeteria of the school now turned into a base camp, get ready to face the first night of the event. Joseph and I go deeper into the woods, hidden behind large trees, to film the start of the race.

At camp the howling of the dogs grows louder and louder and gives way to a real chorus. They can’t wait to take off…

In the meantime, Sergio has medicated an injured dog. The other members of the team weren’t involved in the mishap, nor were those of the other teams but, instead, it was a dog belonging to a farm along the river that attacked the unfortunate sled dog during the race. This goes to show once more how, although rare, accidents can happen and, also, that what causes them may have nothing to do with the dogs’ sports activity.

The musher gives food to the dogs
Time for resting and been feeded
The musher boil the food for the dogs

Bergebyløpet N70 is the northernmost sled dog race in the world: beyond the 70th parallel. At that same latitude -Roger Dahl, a musher with a prestigious international career, explains to us- in Alaska and Siberia the territory is just all ice and to get around you have to use small airplanes on which, often, dogs that have been withdrawn from a race are transported.

Here in Norway, in the Varanger Peninsula, the local population lives the land very differently. There are small villages and towns. Kirkenes is a somewhat more populated town that has always been well-connected with nearby Russia and Finland and, a few hundred kilometers away, there is Tromsø, a small capital within the Arctic region where an important part of the University of Oslo is located.

Roger Persson, a man with a vast knowledge of history and geography that runs the Sami Museum in Nesseby, during an interview explains to us that this area, in the northernmost part of Norway, has always been of great interest. Despite temperatures reaching as low as – 50°C, its vicinity to the sea has allowed for a climate that’s more “livable” compared to the Scandinavian inland, and the first communities to inhabit this area built farms and were able to live off agriculture, animal farming and fishing. Soon a multi-ethnical population developed: Norwegians, Laplanders, Finns and Russians.

The musher feeds the dogs at the check point
the musher takes care of his animals during Bergebyløpet N70
sled dogs wait to be feeded
Huskies resting on the snow

At the check-point the dogs rest on straw sheaves and wait for food: their musher boils frozen meat or dry food and gives it to them, one by one.

Kristian Sirkka’s father was precisely one of the Finns who immigrated here at the beginning of 1900 in search of work. It’s been a long time now since this population has embraced sled dog racing as a sport, developing a real passion for it.

Mikal Lanes is one of these dogsledding enthusiasts. Despite being very busy managing the Bergebyløpet N70 event, he has decided to take part in it (though not as a registered musher) and run with his own dogs on the official trail. The morning we interview him he is exhausted and worn-out. He’s been out all night and the only thing he wants is a few hours of rest. Nonetheless, while he explains the different roles that the dogs have within the team, his eyes light up with true passion and love for animals and for dogsled racing.

Later, when the lights go down, they start to howl: they feel it’s almost time to go.

Northern lights

That night, together with the veterinarian team, we reach a dark and silent camp. We’re in Bergeby. There’s a trailer on which some elders are playing cards. While Roberto Scarcella and Tone-Lise perform check-ups throughout the camp, Sergio takes care of a dog in the mushers’ tent. There’s no lighting. The only light is the flashlight. Joseph follows him step by step to film the entire treatment. The aspect of the vet’s work is crucial to the good outcome of the documentary. Nothing serious for the dog. It will soon be able to resume its sled dog duty. In the meanwhile I go into the woods, place myself under a slope and wait alongside the trail, my legs sunken in the fresh snow up to my thighs, the camera tripod frozen in front of me. After about half an hour I get a glimpse of a nearing light among the trees: it’s the musher’s flashlight. I push rec and in a few seconds the sled glides right in front of me. The most perfect silence. The only sound I hear are the sled’s runners. Even though the dogs have spotted me, not one of them barks or yelps. They’ve been running for fifty kilometers and don’t have breath to waste.

That evening the arrival of the teams is very slow. Perhaps some of them have decided to stop and rest at the previous camp, however at Bergeby the veterinarian check-up is mandatory, so all we can do is wait. We sit around the fire on some ricks of straw and wait. After a while, even the light provided by the trailer goes out, but we stay right where we are.

dogs camp under the aurora borealis

In the morning we reach Vadsø and the farm owned by Kristian Sirkka, who we already met a few days ago. Mr Sirkka offers us a cup of coffee and some of his cookies, as we talk about the race and the Park after which it is named. He is very hospitable and tries to help us the best he can. You can tell he’s a man who has always lived in the Arctic. He’s used to dirtying his hands doing all the work that his farm requires, but at the same time he’s cultured and open. He shows us his cellar, which will be used as operating room in case there’s an emergency, then introduces us to Ron, his daughter’s husband. He’ll be the one to take us, the next morning, with his motor sled to film along the trail in Varangerhalvøya National Park, probably the wildest and toughest stretch of the race.

It’s dawn when the dogs start howling. At camp things are already bustling. Some mushers are loading their sleds with food for the dogs. They’ve tested the terrain and are figuring out whether to change their sled’s runners. The night was very cold, but at daybreak a soft snowfall began, so it might be better to opt for a different type of runner. Towards eight o’clock the children from a nearby school start to arrive. With skis on their feet, they have no trouble going up the hill to reach the farm. Holding a little Norwegian flag in their hand, they begin to look at the dogs and watch the teams start the race.

We are wearing balaclavas and leave with Ron on a sled tied to his snowmobile. The children’s voices, the farm, and the vegetation are soon lost behind us. After a few hundred meters only snow surrounds us. In the distance, the Varanger Fjord, where the blue sea hurls itself on a beach of dark rocks and where, westward, it tapers enough for ice to form on its surface.

Over the arctic into the polar landscape
Driving in the polar surrounding
alaskan huskies in the polar surrounding

Ron points to a sled dog team right in front of us. We’re about to reach it. Joseph raises the camera stabilizer and leans over the sled to record the scene. I take hold of his jacket to help him while he films. We overtake the sled and proceed at high speed. The snow is so dry that it rises up in the air as if it were sand. I feel it in my eyes, which I accidently left unshielded by my snow goggles. Joseph, despite the strain, manages to finish filming the sequence. Ron overtakes the team and returns on the trail. The Fjord has now disappeared behind a hill of snow. In front of us the white sky is hard to distinguish from the hills on the horizon. We’re in the middle of Varangerhalvøya.

 Varangerhalvøya: At the skyline, ofter it’s hard to discern the hills from the sky. Without a compass or a GPS, the musher could loose orientation and get lost.

Polar landscape in Norway
Polar landscape during sledding competition

Here, when the barents sea brings storm, it can be really dangerous for the team. The best thing the musher can do is to stop the sled, cover the dogs, give them some fat food to resist the cold, overturn the sled and use it as a shelter.

Sky in the northern lands
At the checkpoint

After the last night it’s time to rest and enjoy the sunlight. Grasp on a high tree, an owl watches down looking for leftover food.

The award ceremony took place inside the ex-military base of Nyborg. Meanwhile, in the sky, the biggest aurora borealis that we have seen so far begins to form. Green and red lights fill the sky with an undulating motion that can be seen with the naked eye, from the forest rising behind us to the south bank of the Varanger Fjord. With our cameras frosted with ice and the hope that the batteries will last long enough in the cold to get a complete time lapse, we spend the evening there.

The base camp is now empty and the only people still around are us, the FrameFactory troupe, the veterinarian team and a few mushers. A well-deserved sauna followed by a dive in the snow, a bottle of vodka with friends, and then off to bed. We will be leaving tomorrow morning.

In February the sun rises at around eight and sets at around two in the afternoon. You can see it down there, more to the South than to the East. Its orange light lights up the snow giving off a warm glow. It won’t rise much higher than those clouds hanging over the Fjord, but it’s enough to bring some warmth to this corner of the Arctic. Bergebyløpet N70 is over, but someone is still running amid the snow-clad forests.

“Exploring. Running after that last ray of sun that’s about to disappear behind the trees, beyond the frozen valley. Far away from everything, where nature is still the same as when the world was new… You can hear it rule, undisputed, all around you. But don’t worry. You’re in good company…”

(from our documentary)

Our documentary team during the shooting at Varangerfjord

in this picture: Joseph, Ron and Filippo in Varangerhalvøya

FrameFactory documentary poster


The only long-distance sled dog race (650 km) held above the seventieth parallel, beyond the Arctic Circle. Shot along the shores of Varanger Fjord (Norway), the documentary deals with the amazing bond between man and dog.

Out now on Chili (Uk, Italy, Germany, Austria and Poland), Amazon Prime (North America), Qatar Airways, Norwegian Airlines, Finnair, Singapore Airlines and more.

Sales manager: Mariachiara Martina (

Producers: Joseph Corvino / Filippo Palmesi – Production Coordinator: Sergio Maffi – English Narrator: Voxfarm / Italian Narrator: Luciano Bertoli – Colorist: Andrea Bonomelli – Music: Enrico Barrano – Translator: Chiara Jones – Special Thanks: Kristian Sirkka, Ron Kristian Rasthe, Team Horisont, Mikal Lanes, Bergebyløpet Venner.