Film Reviews

The Grizzlies: A Kugluktuk Lacrosse Story

This is not only a sports movie but a true story. The movie was filmed around ten years after the real sports team played. The film is good to watch it’s just sentimental and heartbreaking overall. I originally found this film on digital cable but it can be found on Google Play and CBC Gem right now.

Russ Sheppard, a young man who moves to an Inuit community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut from Toronto, Ontario to teach at a high school. After seeing the hard life of the students who were struggling with a high suicide rate among the teenage community, the physical abuse, poverty, addiction, and alcoholism, the young teacher tries to start an after-school lacrosse club. At first, the community leaders and students were resistant to the club calling it culturally ignorant and dumb. Until two of the leaders of the teen community joined the club after approaching teens based on advice from one of the students. Afterward, the rest of the students joined. They start playing lacrosse gaining self-esteem and game skills. The team named themselves “The Grizzlies.” When they learn about a National Lacrosse Championship in Toronto, they train, crowdfund, and gear their hopes towards.

The story is a sports movie first, a drama about the life and culture of the Inuit second. The film shows the impact of colonization on the Inuit people with the cost of living, the availability of essentials and Residential school generational trauma. The teacher gives a quick discussion of the game lacrosse. Throughout the film, they bring up the history of lacrosse and its importance. For instance, in the film, they state that the sport was started by the indigenous of the Eastern Woodlands and is the oldest organized sport in North America.

The film also has drawn some negative glances due to an assumed white saviour narrative. This is when a white character “rescues” a non-white character from unfortunate circumstances while learning something about themselves along the process in a self-serving matter. They are sometimes seen as messianic figures in the profession of an inspirational teacher or a position of power and privilege. In retrospect to the film, it’s based on a true story. So it tried to be honest to the material but it also tried to focus the majority of the story on the Inuit teens and their struggles than the perspective of the teacher and his ego. Furthermore, the third act mostly focuses on the students’ determination to win and skillset on the lacrosse field.

Mongrel Media Picture’s The Grizzlies (2018) The team on the field during the championship game.

The lead actor was more of a supporting actor with the three of the teenagers’ stories at centre of attention. But the actor was compassionate and more of a fish out of water character with his inability to fit in. The leads in the story were Miranda, the assistant coach, and the two captains, Zach and Kyle. The actress who played Miranda had a female leading role where her character mentored the teacher and was the right-hand man to the story. Her character had a bit of progress throughout the film growing from a person with little prospects and confidence to a woman with proven organizational skills. Zach was a teenage boy who had to take care of his little brother due to his parents being intoxicated all the time. The motivations of the character were a bit of a big brother one by him trying to be a good role model to his brother and making sure he was always secure and putting his brother first. Kyle had the most transformative character in the film from being a teen who was going through physical abuse at home unable to attend school because he has to provide for his family to a teenager with higher self-esteem.

Furthermore, please note that there are some scenes in the film that can be considered disturbing. There are scenes of physical abuse and suicide.

The actors they use to make the film were from different communities across the North including Kugluktuk, Igloolik, Arviat, Rankin Inet, Inuvik, Frog Lake, Gjoa Haven, Pangnirtung, Sanikiluaq, and Yellowknife. More than 33% of the crew were Inuit or Indigenous. The film was shot in two cities in Nunavut, Canada, and Oakville, Ontario. The film mostly took place in the North in Niaqunnguut and Iqaluit in Nunavut. This makes the on-location shots of the cities have this blank backdrop of the Arctic environment. The lighting seems to be all-natural from the sunlight reflecting from the snow.

Mongrel Media Picture’s The Grizzlies (2018) Zach explaining future life plans to his brother while practice/teaching him lacrosse.

The film is in the category of sad sports movie next to Brian’s Song and Rudy. The film is a rarity in the sense of it being a movie about lacrosse and Inuit culture. There’s not a lot of movies about lacrosse. This film gets into describing the history of the sport and its importance to the students throughout the film and was important in introducing the sport to them. It’s a interesting sport and doesn’t look to complex to play. There are some training montages like in any other sports movie but they are very short and possibly the only comedic parts in the film.

This film is partly spoken in the Inuit language of Inuktitut which is rare to hear especially in Canada where I live. I usually hear it in documentaries and YouTube clips of language tutorials. There are films I can recommend like the documentary Angry Inuk which was about the polarizing views of the seal hunting industry and the cultural practices of the hunt with an examination of high profile rich celebrities that support anti-hunting campaigns and the Secret Path which was a multimedia art project that tells the story of Chanie Wenjack.

For more information about the film:

Genre: Sports/Drama
Year: 2018
Duration: 106 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Four out of five stars

All screenshots are from the film
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