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The Grizzlies

25 March 2021

THE GRIZZLIES, Canada, 2018, Inspirational drama. Starring Ben Schnetzer, Tantoo Cardinal, Will Sasso, Booboo Stewart, Emerald MacDonald, Anna Lambe. Directed by Miranda de Pencier. 108 minutes. Rated M (Suicide themes and coarse language).

No, not a nature documentary about bears in the American or Canadian woods. The Grizzlies is the title of a sports team, an unlikely group of underdogs who enter a competition and find themselves. Sounds like a sports film formula – and, in some ways it is, but there is much more to it, and there is much more edge.

The setting is an isolated community in northern Canada, where the majority of the inhabitants are Inuit. With 21st-century changes, the youngsters in the community have little to look forward to. They are not interested in education, and have some loyalty to their parents and the traditions, with many of the older generations warning them against the white man’s world. There is a school, but many of them don’t go.

The film opens rather lyrically, a young man walking through the snow-clad mountains – and then kills himself. The words on screen tell us that this area has the highest youth suicide rate in the country. So, a sombre setting – and this issue of youth suicide recurs during the film and is strikingly dramatic in the final 25 minutes.

And, the young people just sit around idle, drinking and doing drugs.

Into the situation comes an earnest and enthusiastic young graduate teacher, Russ Sheppard (Schnetzer, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Pride). Sheppard has been appointed to the area, but is in no way prepared for such a cultural change. It looks as though it is going to be one of those stories of a white saviour coming in to redeem the locals and bring them to some kind of celebration. And, in a way it is. However, much of the dialogue targets him, especially from the veteran school principal (Cardinal), and, in his disappointment and self-blame toward the end, he has to be reminded that he has urged the young people to go forward, no matter what, and that this issue is not just about him.

The first part of the film is rather depressing, showing the harsh situations for adults and youngsters. While Sheppard has the idea of introducing lacrosse, he needs the support of some of the young people. His most devoted student, rather silent and self-conscious, Miranda (MacDonald) has a talent for organisation, and comes out of herself to start organising and advising. In a sense, she is the moral and optimistic core of the whole drama. The young people follow the lead of one of their peers, are interested, get the hang of lacrosse, get enthusiastic, play.

The crisis comes when Sheppard applies for the team to go into the national competition in Toronto. The principal disagrees. The town Council, with an annual grant from a mining company, think that giving the team money is a waste and wrong emphasis. Sheppard is impetuous, pushy and arrogant (the principal’s words to him), but he has to begin to learn some of the local customs, language, listen as well is talk to parents and grandparents.

It is not a spoiler to say that they do get to Toronto – but with not quite the results they might have anticipated, but achieving some sense of pride and camaraderie.

It is that kind of inspirational sports film – but, given the social conditions and the prevalence of youth suicide, it is an inspiration with challenging edge.

Heritage Films
Released 25 March
Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media

The Grizzlies IS IN CINEMAS NOW! To find a cinema near you go to


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