Movie Review: The Grizzlies

Set in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, an isolated town with the highest suicide rate in Canada, this sports drama is based on actual events circa 2004.

High school English teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) is unprepared for the challenges that await him in the classroom. A naïve, well-intended southerner—referred to as qallunaat by the locals—Russ plans to stay for only one year while he waits for a teaching contract at a private school in Halifax.

After learning (the hard way) that the authoritarian approach doesn’t work with these neglected students, Russ tries to inspire them through sports. At first wary, the students eventually do come around and join the lacrosse team. Slowly—and not without obstacles—Russ succeeds in creating a spirit of camaraderie among the players.

Opposition to this fledgling group can be found almost everywhere in Kugluktuk.

The school principal, Janace (Tantoo Cardinal), tries to discourage Russ from starting this venture. When Russ decides to take the team to Toronto for the high school nationals, Janace advises him not to add to the long list of promises that have been made to the Inuit and never kept.

Several sets of parents and grandparents believe their young charges should be hunting and not spending so much time with the qallunaat.

Alcoholism and abuse exist in many of the homes. From the opening scene where crates of liquor outnumber the passengers in a small plane to a colleague’s advice on surviving life in the North— “I do the same thing everyone else does, I drink” to the depressing night culture…Russ faces many obstacles during that first year.

The specter of suicide can be felt throughout the film. Each time, I was unprepared for the events and ensuing consequences. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to live in a community where everyone has lost a family member or friend to suicide.

While the cast is predominantly male, two young female actresses deliver outstanding performances. I enjoyed watching Miranda (Emerald MacDonald) gain confidence and acquire leadership skills as the team’s manager. Spring (Anna Lambe) experiences the tragic loss of her boyfriend but manages to bounce back and become part of the lacrosse team.

First-time director Miranda de Pencier has crafted a powerful film that humanizes the grim statistics about youth suicide in Canada’s North.

A must-see film!


2 responses to “Movie Review: The Grizzlies

  1. Sounds like a moving film. I am struck by the similarities between this town and remote communities in the far north ( very hot instead of cold! ) of Australia where there is a similar high suicide rate of young Aborigines.

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