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Lacrosse vs suicide: an inspiring movie

Lacrosse vs suicide: an inspiring movie

A still from “The Grizzlies”, a Hollywood production based on the true story of a southern teacher trying to engage Inuit students in a small Arctic town. Photo courtesy of TIFF

Receiving at least three standing ovations on the festival circuit in 2018, “The Grizzlies” is the amazing true story of how the sport of lacrosse inspired change for Inuit students and for their community, Kugluktuk. 

This remote Arctic town had the dubious distinction of having the highest suicide rate in North America. It was also struggling with alcohol, drug, and spousal abuse. Rookie teacher, Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) a young hot-shot teacher from down south (Saskatchewan) soon finds the students aren’t that interested in school, especially history lessons. Overwhelmed and frustrated, he introduces a lacrosse program. 

The seed for this film was planted in 2007 when ESPN aired a segment on the Grizzlies lacrosse team. It was seen by Major League Lacrosse founder Jake Steinfeld, who was so moved he contacted Sheppard. Together they eventually managed to interest Hollywood executive Frank Marshall (“Indiana Jones”, “Back to the Future”, “Bourne Conspiracy”) in producing the film. 

But this is no typical Hollywood film, or sports film for that matter. 

The director, Miranda de Pencier, spent endless months in the Arctic familiarizing herself with the culture and seeking Inuit (mostly unprofessional) actors for some of the roles. (Over 600 Inuit youth were auditioned.) She insisted on authenticity in every aspect of the film from the Inuit accents to filming the entire project in the arctic and hiring as many locals as possible, including two producers. The film boasts stunning vistas, a unique soundtrack featuring well known Inuit artists and iconic Indigenous actress Tantoo Cardinal as the school principal. It is at times funny, tragic, and inspiring but it gets its heart from the determination and passion the kids themselves.   

SC Film Society screens “The Grizzlies” Saturday, Jan. 18, 2pm at the Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt, and Monday, Jan. 20 and Tuesday, Jan. 21, 7:30pm, at Gibsons Heritage Playhouse. Members $5, others $9.

Submitted by Bette Chadwick

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