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Movie Review and Giveaway: The Grizzlies

Movie Review and Giveaway: The Grizzlies

Movie Review and Giveaway: The Grizzlies

6 March 2021

The Grizzlies is based on the true story of a small arctic village in Northern Canada called Kugluktuk, and explores how a group of Inuit teenagers and their teacher transformed the community through lacrosse. 

Reviewed by Jessica Morris

The Kugluktuk Grizzlies lacrosse team attended the National Lacrosse Championships in 2005 – now a member of the community is telling their story.

The Grizzlies is a recipe for success – and rightfully so. The new Canadian sports biopic about a lacrosse team from Kugluktuk, a small arctic town in Canada’s west, carries the spirit of Remember the Titans. And people will naturally gravitate toward the story of the young teacher, who uses sport to help transform a remote Inuit community, thereby breaking generational poverty.

It’s a powerful concept – but the real strength of The Grizzlies lies beyond this trope. Because this incredible story is based on real life, and the real heroes are the community it is based upon; the people of Kugluktuk, a town with the highest suicide rate in North America where 50 per cent of children never attend school. And, more specifically, the teenagers who went to the National Lacrosse Championships in 2005.  

In fact, Stacey Aglok MacDonald, a lead producer for The Grizzlies, actually grew up in Kugluktuk before the Grizzlies lacrosse program began. And that, along with a talented cast and crew, many who are Inuit and indigenous, make this a film worth watching.

There is a tendency in films about the “underdog,” to celebrate the (often-white) saviour who coaches them to victory, and their teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) is a good candidate. On first moving to Kugluktuk, he fails to understand the Inuit way of life and is understandably grieved at the rampant epidemics of suicide, domestic violence, poverty and drunkenness he witnesses. He uses his college sport of lacrosse to find common ground with his class – teaching them about teamwork, belonging and self-worth.

But to summarise The Grizzlies in this way does a disservice to the community who lived this story. Because while we go into this film through the eyes of a white foreigner, we are humbled and stripped of our colonised privilege (like the teacher) when we witness teenagers fight for their lives, and their community. No one more succinctly communicates this than the character of Miranda (played by first time actor Emerald McDonald) who becomes the sticking point between the students and teacher, advocating adamantly for her people, while embracing new goals and dreams in the form of their lacrosse team. 

 The young cast of The Grizzlies made the film more profound, with many coming from Inuit and Indigenous backgrounds themselves. 

This isn’t a story about a white man saving a First Nations community – it is a story about an incredible group of Inuit young people, who chose to come together and transform the cycle of abuse, poverty and pain inflicted on their people by white colonists.

Young actors like Boo Boo Stewart (Disney’s Descendants), Anna Lambe and Paul Nutarariaq do an incredible job of communicating the remarkable loyalty, tenacity and resilience of a people the rest of the world forgot. And if you stick around for the credits, this is celebrated with a “where are they now,” of the real-life characters, when we are treated to family photos and details about how these young people are changing the world today.

The Grizzlies is an important film, which is why it’s equally heartbreaking. Depictions of suicide, domestic violence, assault and substance abuse are all present in this film. And the way these are approached, with honesty and vulnerability, makes the cinematic moments of victory, community, grief and hope all the more potent.

White Australians like myself will benefit from watching this story because it pushes us beyond ourselves, showing us the beauty and power of other cultures. It is then our responsibility to take these learnings and bring them home, realising that similar stories have been lived out by Aboriginal Australians since colonisation.

In a year where so many quality Australian films featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actors are on the big screen, we have ample opportunity to learn what this requires of us as fellow Kingdom Bearers in bringing about reconciliation.

The Grizzlies is rated M for Suicide Themes and Coarse Language. It will be at select cinemas from March 18.

Others is giving away 10 double passes to The Grizzlies thanks to Heritage Films. To enter, email your name and address to Jessica.morris@salvationarmy.org.au by 12.00am AEST , Tuesday, 9 March.

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