The Grizzlies: Story of salvation through sport will inspire

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The Grizzlies Lacrosse team stand tall and united with the prospect of bringing hope to their family and community. Photo: Inspiring Grizzlies Inc/Shane Mahood
The Grizzlies Lacrosse team stand united with the prospect of bringing hope to their family and community. PHOTO: Inspiring Grizzlies Inc/Shane Mahood

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Over the decades, there have been a number of inspirational films which highlight the positive power of sport to instill the values of teamwork, discipline and courage to a group in need.

It is a genre that can lift the spirit, warm the heart and, when executed well, can engage the audience in a unique and genuine way.

And although iconic dramas such as Coach Carter, The Blind Side and Remember the Titans (to name a few) address the role that sports play in the betterment of the individual, none have done so quite like The Grizzlies, currently showing in cinemas across the country. 

Based on a true story, The Grizzlies follows history teacher Russ Sheppard (played by Ben Schnetzer) as he takes up a job at a high school in the remote Inuit town of Kugluktuk in Canada’s north. Unbeknown to Sheppard, decades of marginalisation and dispossession at the hands of white colonials have led the Indigenous community into poverty, hunger and abuse.

Russ Sheppard may be the spark that ignites a flame of hope, but it is the experience and growth of the entire community that transforms it into a fire of change.”

This in turn has caused widespread depression and the dramatic rise in suicides, particularly amongst the town’s youth. After a series of miscommunications and cultural misunderstandings, Sheppard struggles to keep his students in school and away from a life of smoking and substance abuse.

Furthermore, his attempts at schooling the kids are constantly met with opposition as he is seen as the latest white “Southerner” to pass through and pass judgement. But he was a troubled youth once and he quickly realises that just as he needed an outlet to stay motivated so did these kids.

With the help of his colleague Mike Johnston (played by Will Sasso) and star pupil Miranda (played by Emerald McDonald), Sheppard passes on his love of lacrosse to his students and enacts a change that affects the whole community and most of all himself.

Russ Sheppard (played by Ben Schnetzer), at centre, enjoys a light moment with his students amidst the darkenss of their suffering. Photo: Inspiring Grizzlies Inc/Blake Hannahson
Russ Sheppard (played by Ben Schnetzer), at centre, enjoys a light moment with his students amidst the darkenss of their suffering. Photo: Inspiring Grizzlies Inc/Blake Hannahson

With a narrative that is centred around Schnetzer’s character, one can mistake the film to be just another “white saviour” story. But The Grizzlies is quite the opposite.

Russ Sheppard may be the spark that ignites a flame of hope, but it is the experience and growth of the entire community that transforms it into a fire of change. Through brilliant casting, masterful storytelling and emotive dialogue, Director Miranda de Pencier keeps the audience’s focus and concern on the plight of the indigenous community until the very end.

Schnetzer is brilliant as the kind-hearted yet ignorant teacher and his prudence in taking centre stage in certain scenes contributed greatly to success of the story. At times, Schnetzer’s Sheppard does come across as disingenuous in his sympathy for the students but overall he gives an outstanding performance, particularly in the film’s final act.

Through well-developed characters and story arcs, the film successfully shines light on the intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism on North America’s indigenous communities.”

The supporting cast, who almost all come from the Inuit community, shine on screen and give most of the best performances.

Actors Ricky Marty-Pahtaykan and Paul Nutarariaq bring rare authenticity to their roles as Adam and Zach and their vulnerability on screen will take audiences on an emotional rollercoaster. Marked by abuse within their families, characters Miranda (played by Emerald MacDonald) and Kyle (Booboo Stewart) share a similar journey from victim to victor.

MacDonald and Stewart give many memorable performances that genuinely showcase their character’s growth and the effect that domestic violence can have on a child.

Cinematographer Jim Denault makes great use of the beautiful landscapes and snow-covered terrain, particularly during the training montage, and does well to utilise the lighting from the overcast skies to invoke the right mood.

Through well-developed characters and story arcs, the film successfully shines light on the intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism on North America’s indigenous communities. 

The depth of this issue, whether within the individual or the family unit, is given an honest treatment and de Pencier does not shy away from portraying the realities of teen suicide and physical alcoholic and drug abuse. 

At its core, this story has the same moral as the one told to Sheppard by one of the Inuit elders, that is, our actions have consequences.

Through well-developed characters and story arcs, the film successfully shines light on the intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism on North America’s indigenous communities.”

The forced assimilation into white culture of North America’s indigenous communities had dire consequences, but as Sheppard learned, when we have the others best interest at heart and are willing to understand one another then our actions can enact a positive outcome.

And although, at a glance, this inspirational film is about sport, audiences will quickly realise that the game is only a vessel to carry the fundamental lessons of hope, courage, self-worth and above all love (both of one-self and of others). 

The Grizzlies, rated M for suicide themes and coarse language, is currently showing in cinemas across the country.

For more information or to find a screening near you go to www.thegrizzliesmovie.com.au/

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