The Grizzlies – a feature film based on the inspiring true story of how a lacrosse program positively influenced school attendance and helped reduce the rate of teen suicide in the remote Arctic community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut – is set to premier at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.
It will mark the world premier for the film, which has been in production since 2009.
The Grizzlies tells the story of how a high school teacher, Russ Sheppard, brought the sport of lacrosse to Kugluktuk, a community 600 kilometers north of Yellowknife known at the time for having one of the highest suicide rates in the country. The film tells the story of how the introduction of Canada’s national summer sport helped the Inuit youth overcome intergenerational trauma from residential schools and suicide. The Grizzlies team eventually gains the support of a deeply divided town and negotiates its way to the Canadian national championship in Toronto.
The official synopsis of the film from the TIFF website is as follows:
Inuit youth in a small community gain a powerful sense of pride and purpose through the sport of lacrosse, in this true-story account of tenacity, renewal, and inspiring resilience. Based on a true story, The Grizzlies is about the determination and resilience of a group of Inuit youth in a small Arctic community.
In 1998, first-time teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) moves north for a job at a local school in Kugluktuk, a town struggling with one of the highest suicide rates in North America. With no previous experience or knowledge of life in the north, Russ is shocked and overwhelmed by the numerous social issues facing the youth, all as a result of the massive legacy of colonization on their families and communities. Russ introduces a lacrosse program in the school. Although the program is at first met with skepticism and resistance, Russ’s commitment begins to win the trust of the students and together they form the Grizzlies lacrosse team. Through the sport, the youth find a vital outlet for their emotions and the team creates a sense of pride and purpose in themselves and their community.
Fans can also watch a clip from the movie on the TIFF YouTube channel.
Sheppard, who is now a lawyer based in Cranbrook, British Columbia and still involved with lacrosse at various levels, served as a consultant on the film.
An initial screening for the press and film industry took place on September 8, with showings for members of the general public scheduled for September 12, 13 and 15.
According to a CBC News article from this summer, The Grizzlies is expected to be released in select theatres in the spring of 2019. The filmmakers also plan to have screenings in Nunavut and throughout the festival circuit before then.