A true story of healing through lacrosse captured in ‘The Grizzlies’

Based on a true story, The Grizzlies is about the determination and resilience of a group of Inuit youth from a small Arctic community.

CALGARY — The film ‘The Grizzlies’ was screened at the Calgary International Film Festival last September, and it tells the story of a group of adolescent Inuit students who turn to lacrosse as a way to cope with high rates of suicide in their community.

The youth gain a powerful sense of pride and purpose through the sport of lacrosse, in this account of authentic tenacity, renewal, and inspiring resilience.

The story begins in 1998, when first-time teacher Russ Sheppard moves north for a job at a school in Kugluktuk. Kugluktuk is a town that struggles with one of the highest suicide rates in North America.

With no previous experience or knowledge of life in the north, Sheppard is surprised by 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.

He then introduces a lacrosse program at the school and although the program is at first met with skepticism and resistance, his 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, kinship and purpose in themselves and each other.

One of the film’s producers the is originally from Kugluktuk, Stacey Aglok MacDonald had first-hand experience of the impact of this program on her community and became committed to bringing this story to the screen. Using close creative collaboration with producer Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and director Miranda de Pencier, she succeeded.

Utilizing the absolutely stunning breakout performances by young Nunavut-based actors Paul Nutarariaq and Emerald MacDonald, The Grizzlies can be seen as a testament to the spirit, tenacity, and leadership of Inuit youth who persist despite immense pressure and hardship.

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