Canadian Film Festival opener puts spotlight on Inuit community and the redemptive power of sports.
Beyond ice hockey, maple trees and Justin Trudeau, perhaps one of the lesser known aspects of Canadian culture would be the people from the First Nations, with natives rarely spotlighted in film and mass media. But sports drama <em>The Grizzlies </em>looks set to change that, as it opens the 2020 Canadian Film Festival in Singapore, highlighting Canada’s diverse people and culture, and showcasing a dark side to the country that warrants discussion.
Directed by Miranda de Pencier, with a story by Moira Walley-Beckett and Graham Yost, <em>The Grizzlies </em>takes place in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, a small Arctic town struggling with the highest suicide rate in North America. It’s not hard to imagine why that might be the case; as the film opens, the camera pans out and shows us just how vast the land they live in is, and reminding us of how small and how alone we are. It feels like we are at the edge of the world, incredibly daunting, yet also showcasing a beauty that knows no boundaries.
Our story focuses on a school in Kugluktuk, where we examine a group of students, and their customs, their way of life, and the pressures they are put under, in spite of their otherwise carefree facade. We are reminded of how there is so much sadness amidst the beauty of the land, with so much negativity and a lack of optimism, such as how when the teachers tries to do something new, it is met with rules and restrictions that prevent change.
But even with the many challenges the community faces, all it takes is a little encouragement to helping pave the way for growth and change, as the students’ lives are transformed when they are introduced to lacrosse. Though doubtful at first of new teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer), a white man from the South, the students eventually come together to put their all into the sport, form the titular Grizzlies team, and work their way to the National Lacrosse Championships in Toronto.
Throughout the show, Miranda’s character was certainly one character I could relate to, with her quiet demeanour but strong spirits so powerful to watch. Behind Booboo’s tough exterior, he cares for his family, and still gives his family his all, shown in full when he sings to his younger brother to sleep. All of this is enhanced by Garth Stevenson’s evocative music, a beautiful soundtrack that shows off the amazing talent of the indigenous people, their culture and personalities in every piece.
As the story progresses, we are exposed to even more social ills in Kugluktuk, including disturbing scenes of families turning to drug use, alcohol abuse and domestic violence. As all this is going on, Russell has to make a difficult choice, as he receives his acceptance letter to St. Andrews and has to decide between staying or leaving. But just looking around him, he realises that the choices the people he is surrounded by a daily basis are often a matter of life and death.
Throughout the film, the Grizzlies constantly showcase their willpower and perseverance as they triumph in the face of adversity, managing to procure the funds to fly them to Toronto for the championship tournament. But It also shows the reality of life and death with their lives in Kugluktuk, and we too think of out own short-sightedness in life, and to look around us, and appreciate what we have. Panning across a shot of the graveyard, we see how many lives are lost, a contrast to the beauty of the landscape in the backdrop, and we think about how there is a dark shadow that haunts every wonderful moment in life.
As they leave for Toronto. the students’ eyes light up as they go past skyscrapers and are introduced to city life. Throughout the film, we are constantly reminded that what knocks you down only makes you stronger. The Grizzlies came to represent, and they did just that. Victory does not necessarily come in the form of a win, but something much deeper within us all. For the Grizzlies, this was evident when the team arrived back home, and were greeted with smiles and hugs from the community around them, reminding us all that love is all around, and that sometimes all we need is someone to listen and understand.