True North | Special Presentations
Boasting arctic conditions and North America’s highest suicide rates, remote Kugluktuk, Nunavut isn’t the sort of place that’s conducive to dreaming big. When first-year teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) is airlifted in, he’s intent on paying down his student loan and inspiring the Inuit youth in the process. It takes only days for him to witness the extent of the serious issues facing the community but significantly longer to recognize his own ignorance. Even after introducing his students to lacrosse—a personal passion—in a bid to boost morale, Russ must slowly accept that the restoration of pride can only come from within the community rather than courtesy of an outside saviour.
As the decidedly rag-tag team trains for a tournament in far-flung Toronto, it’s evident that producers Stacey Aglok MacDonald (a former Kugluktuk resident) and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk) have scored a rousing victory by teaming up with director Miranda de Pencier to bring this 1998-set true story to the big screen. And while the cross-cultural approach to the film’s production is undeniably laudable, it wouldn’t carry much weight if the end result wasn’t so involving and uplifting. With a cast composed of both established Indigenous performers and remarkable new discoveries (including Paul Nutarariaq and Emerald MacDonald, both based in Nunavut), The Grizzlies is a stirring tale of collective rebirth.