A look inside The Year of the Dog

What happens when two strays find each other? In this case, one of them is an alcoholic, the other, well, he’s a dog.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 7:58 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - What happens when two strays find each other? In this case, one of them is an alcoholic, the other, well, he’s a dog.

The end result is a movie, called The Year of the Dog. Although set in Montana, its theme is universal.

“Everything I knew about the world, from basically five months old to sixteen years old, was Alaska and nine to ten of those years were in North Pole,” said Robert Grabow, filmmaker, co-director, writer, producer, and one of the lead actors in this film.

Grabow plays “Matt” in the film and his rescue dog, Caleb, plays “Yupik.” Together they embark on a journey of sobriety. Matt’s goal is to be sober for 30 days.

It’s a personal movie for him. He said, “part of the reason I made it is because, you know, from my own experience, I don’t think there’s much worse than having the experience of suffering while also feeling alone.”

Grabow says he was able to connect to his own life experiences the good and the bad.

In September 2022, while the filming was wrapping up, Grabow lost one of his best friends in Alaska to suicide. It reminded him to take any suffering he’s been through and try to do something positive.

As far as making a movie, well, this was Grabow’s first time writing a film, starring in a feature film and producing a feature film. But that’s not all.

He explained “It was hard reliving a lot of difficult things from my own life in the course of this production. So all of it was new and all of it was quite the challenge.”

The Year of the Dog is not all doom and gloom. It’s about healing through suffering.

His character, Matt, starts in a difficult place and gradually emerges from it with the help of the community and the help of his dog. This concept reminds him of why he calls Alaska his home.

He said, “My best friends and my entire sense of community is from North Pole and the Fairbanks area. That’s kind of how I pull through difficult things in my life and that’s kind of the uplifting subtext of the film that comes out over time. People are going to walk away from it feeling good and feeling, I think, emotionally affected.”

The process of creating a film has been a life-changing experience and Grabow has learned lessons along the way.

“Every human being on this planet, and every living thing is special in its way, and sometimes we can miss that if we don’t take the time to engage each other fully,” he said.

He also gained a new-found strength in the sense of community and staying connected to friends and loved ones, no matter what they may be going through. He feels this way by saying, “Because we’re not here forever.”

The Year of the Dog can be described as a scrappy alcoholic who finds what some believe is a scrappy rescue dog. But they find each other and together they learn that hope and love and strength can endure if you believe in each other.

It’s a philosophy Grabow, and his dog, Caleb, believe in.

Grabow explained, “And it’s that lesson, something that was important, was that we both continue to engage with each other. Caleb and I think that’s an important thing, you know, in life, particularly when we’re struggling is to know, as hard as it seems, it can get just a little bit better if we stay in it, long enough.”

When asked if he was a better person because of this experience, he replied, “I am. It was a struggle through the production process and afterward, spending a lot of time in the painful parts of my own experience. But, yeah. I am. That’s pretty cool to say.”

More information about the film can be found at The Year of the Dog - the movie.