Showtime: Thurs, Feb 9th @ 6:00 PM
Directed By: Tommy Hyde
Doug Butler is a hardscrabble Vermont dairy farmer with an offbeat passion—dog mushing.
A veritable folk hero, Doug’s ease with cows, dogs and people is a joy to behold. And when he trains his team of mutts on the family farm with a dream to compete at the world championships in Alaska, his teenage exuberance seems to erase the tired lines on his sixty-five year old face.
Yet the demands of being a small-scale family farmer in a changing world are constant, and Doug has never once left his cows for more than a few days. And behind the charming cocktail of racy anecdotes and repeated jokes is a darker picture than Doug would ever choose to reveal.
Keenly aware of the fate of the other family farms that used to dot the landscape, Doug has managed for years to play one creditor off against the next to survive another season. But with the accumulated debt now insurmountable and Doug’s thoughts plunging into depression and suicide, his dogs offer solace. And perhaps a way out.
On a cold March morning Doug pulls out of his driveway in a rusted-out truck carrying 22 dogs, tearily waving goodbye to the only world he’s ever known. He’s bound for Alaska. The journey will prepare him for what he’ll confront when he gets back—the sale of his farm and a race to craft a new destiny.
Underdog is an intimate vérité portrait of Doug Butler in the most consequential year of his life—a curiously optimistic twist on the kinds of family farm tragedies that have so marked American rural life. In the era of the pandemic, the resonance of Doug’s journey extends to all who have faced down loneliness, isolation and the struggle to make sense of forces beyond control.
Tommy Hyde is a documentary director and producer based in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Growing up, Tommy sought out frozen ponds to play hockey and abandoned houses and highway underpasses to plein air paint. It was his first inclination that perhaps there was something to learn from spending time in the fringes of his reality.
While studying architecture at Middlebury College, he began to see structures as a way of experiencing narrative through space and time. Interest in long-form documentary was a natural evolution, and while still in college he turned his energies toward structuring narrative in film—specifically the ways in which layers of character are revealed through long and patient production, spent over months and years with a single protagonist.
Tommy is a producer, writer and editor of The Happening (in post-production), a collaboration with veteran documentary producer Aaron Woolf (King Corn, To Be A Miss, Denial, Greener Grass) and a five part documentary series filmed over seven years exploring the life and character of an undocumented Mexican serving a life sentence in Iowa’s prison system. Ordinary Saints (in production), a new feature, follows the story of Adriana Blanquet, the first high-profile case of COVID-19 in Mexico City as she navigates official denials, accusations of witchcraft, and the politics of canonization. Underdog (2021) is Tommy’s directorial feature debut.