With breakout performances by first-time Nunavut-based actors, The Grizzlies is a testament to the spirit, tenacity and leadership of Inuit youth. (Photo contributed)

The Grizzlies, an inspirational true story

Cinemaphile/Joanne Sargent

Happy New Year from all the volunteers of the Shuswap Film Society!

We start our 2019 program with The Grizzlies, an inspirational true story about a teacher who goes to a remote Canadian Arctic community and attempts to inspire his students by introducing them to the game of lacrosse.

In 1998, Russ Sheppard, who presently is a lawyer living in Cranbrook, had just completed his education degree and was hired to teach in Kugluktuk, in what is now Nunavut. With no previous knowledge of life in the North, Russ is shocked and overwhelmed by students with very little interest in school, struggling to find their way in a harsh environment beset by alcoholism, abuse and the highest suicide rate in Canada.

Russ comes up with the idea to use lacrosse, Canada’s national sport and one invented by Indigenous people, to try to combat the misery and hopelessness. Despite initial resistance from both the community and the students, in time Russ earns their trust and the idea catches on.

Related: Cranbrook man inspires movie ‘The Grizzlies’ set to debut at TIFF

The lacrosse team, the Grizzlies, start to have some success and people realize that what they’re doing is working, with amazingly positive affects on school attendance and suicide rates. The youth gain a powerful sense of pride and purpose. The director, Miranda de Pencier, heard about the team through news articles and was moved by the story of the kids banding together and finding inspiration through lacrosse. And one of the film’s producers, Stacey Aglok MacDonald is originally from Kugluktuk, so she has first hand experience of the impact of Sheppard’s program on her community and was committed to bring this story to the screen.

While you could label it a sports movie, it’s so much more than just the healing power of sport. This movie has a lot more to say about life itself and the need to grind your way through its everyday struggles to find purpose and hope.

With breakout performances by first-time Nunavut-based actors, The Grizzlies is a testament to the spirit, tenacity and leadership of Inuit youth, persisting in spite of immense pressure and hardships. The movie deals with some very serious issues; as Sheppard himself said, “I’m dealing with some kids that really trusted all of us to ensure the proper story was told.”

Involving and uplifting, the movie got standing ovations at both the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Grizzlies shows at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5 at the Salmar Classic Theatre.


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