139: Ben Moon/Concentric Circles

Ben and Nori, Oregon, November 2020. Photo: Owen Tozer

Think ‘viral video’ and a couple of examples from the last decade stand out. Danny Macaskill’s ‘Inspired Bicycles’, certainly.

Ben Moon’s ‘Denali’, too. Like a lot of people – over 20 million at the last count – this beautiful, moving tribute to his dog was the first time I became aware of Ben and his work as a photographer, filmer and writer. As is the case with any creative work that achieves huge success, the film hit hard on a deeply emotional level; successfully conveying the uniqueness of our bond with dogs, as well as the purity of Ben’s relationship with Denali himself.

The success of ‘Denali’ made it inevitable that the story would evolve into unexpected directions, and Ben soon followed the initial short film with an extremely honest and emotionally affecting book about his life and relationship with Denali. Now, with the news that a film adaption of the story is on the way, I sat down with Ben to discuss the whole story.

Ben by Owen

I really like the Denali story, and I especially enjoyed our conversation, because it is a great reminder to regard the act of creativity as a series of concentric circles, within which new meanings can accrue and accumulate from one single starting point.

Like a lot of my favourite Looking Sideways conversations, this was a lovely chat that took its own sweet time and went off in some lovely tangential directions. Of course we talked about Denali – the dog and the short film – but we also chatted about Ben’s career as a creative in the adventure world, the nature of style, the emotional challenge of creating honestly, and other favourite Looking Sideways themes. Listen below:

Connect With Ben

Show Notes

  • The US election
  • Building a house
  • Writing the book (in the van)
  • “How dogs can be really special in your life”
  • How colon cancer particularly affects younger populations
  • Years spent undiagnosed
  • The process of bringing ‘Denali’ together
  • Reclaiming the story through it’s different iterations
  • Having the book adapted into a screenplay
  • Counselling and being mentored
  • Finding the courage to share the short film
  • ‘The learning process of deciphering my own emotions from others’
  • Growing up as a sensitive kid
  • Unusual depictions of masculinity
  • Tommy Caldwell: ’This will be some of the best therapy you’ve ever experienced’
  • Transitioning from analogue to digital
  • How the Canon 5D made film-making accessible
  • The collaborative nature of film making
  • Being a Sony Artisan
  • Meeting David Burnett
  • Keeping the fire burning
  • The examples of Alex Yoder and Gerry Lopez
  • The joy of expressive, practiocal style
  • Wave riding as art and expression
  • Economy of movement
  • Moving with intention and grace
  • Connecting and exchanging energy in life and in relationships
  • The Flow State
  • The publishing process, and writing as a team effort
  • How traumatic experiences live inside you
  • Adopting Nori
  • The joy of having a dog
  • Capturing the essence of the relationship with Denali

People/Dogs Mentioned

  • James Joiner
  • Peg
  • Denali
  • Nori
  • Ben Knight
  • Max Winkler
  • Charlie Hunnam
  • Shia LeBeouf
  • Tommy Caldwell
  • David Burnett
  • Bob Marley
  • Alex Yoder
  • Gerry Lopez
  • Taro Tamai
  • Belinda Baggs
  • Dane Peterson
  • Harrison Roach
  • Dave Rastovich
  • Dan Malloy
  • Chris Malloy
  • Keith Malloy
  • Bob Mitsven
  • Alex Lopez
  • Leah Dawson
  • Mark Bryant
  • Jon Krakauer
  • Patrick Nolan
  • Matt Haig

Places Mentioned

  • Jackson Hole
  • Jamaica
  • Banff
  • Mt Bachelor

Companies/Brands Mentioned

  • Patagonia
  • Canon
  • Sony
  • Gentemstick
  • Penguin

Books/Films Mentioned


  • Denali
  • Denali: A Man, a Dog and the Friendship of a Lifetime by Ben Moon
  • Peanut Butter Falcon, directed by Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz
  • Little Miss Sunshine, directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faros
  • Jungleland, directed by Max Winkler
  • The Dawn Wall, directed by Josh Lowell & Peter Mortimer
  • The Northern Sky
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • Dog Medicine by Julie Barton