Gut wrenching, Shocking, Painful, Funny, Inspirational and Full of Heart

Based on an inspiring true story, The Grizzlies spent six weeks as the number one Canadian film in Canada last spring, and will be screened in communities and schools across the country in the new school year.

A project nine years in the making, the film is directed by Toronto’s Miranda de Pencier and co-produced by Inuit producers Stacey Aglok MacDonald and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. Filmed almost entirely in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, The Grizzlies is an inspirational drama about a group of Inuit students in the small Arctic town of Kugluktuk where, in 2004, suicide rates were the highest in North America.

The film covers a range of issues guaranteed to hit home. When southern teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) arrives in the small town of Kugluktuk, it is obvious that he is naïve and culturally unaware of the Inuit ways. Students are suspicious of him, and his initial attempts in the classroom are not well received. Desperate to connect with his students, Sheppard introduces something he knows well—the sport of lacrosse. Gradually, the youth begin to embrace the sport, connect with each other as teammates and find inspiration to make profound shifts in their lives. Together as “The Grizzlies”, the players learn to trust Sheppard, gain the support of a deeply divided town and lead each other to compete in the National Lacrosse Championships.

Set in one of the most remote and unique places on earth, the film takes viewers on an emotional journey highlighting the ability of the human spirit to triumph in the face of adversity. “Seeing the movie come to life has been a surreal experience; it brings me back to all of the things that our community experienced and shared,” said Aglok MacDonald. “People from home, and I’m sure all over the world, will be able to connect with this story—I know that Inuit from Kugluktuk and from across the Arctic will see a lot of themselves and their experiences reflected in the film. They know what it feels like. In Kugluktuk we had The Grizzlies, but in Pangnirtung, it might have been music programs, in Arviat it was a youth film society. All of our communities have had these beautiful stories of how it took just one spark and a few committed people and youth to inspire a town and change lives.”

With a powerful message of hope and tenacity, the film is a celebration of Inuit life and culture, an elegy to the traumatic impact of European colonization on Inuit peoples, and an ode to the resilience of youth who find their power by facing deeply-rooted fears and vulnerabilities with grit and grace. It features tour-de-force performances by breakout Inuit and First Nations lead talent from an array of remote communities.

Since I began the journey of making The Grizzlies we’ve all become much more aware ofthe painful history of the north, including the legacy of white teachers since the start of colonialism. Nothing can change the past. But in one town a group of kids made a shift and continue to inspire their community. I feel honoured to be telling their story—honoured that they trusted me with their life rights—and I hope their openness, vulnerability and strength to expose a painful part of their history and make it public —inspires any kid struggling in any part of the world to know that there is always hope.

– Miranda de Pencier, Director

Producers (Stacey Aglok MacDonald, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Zanne Devine and Miranda de Pencier) and executive producers (Jake Steinfeld and Frank Marshall) spent nearly ten years developing and building talent capacity to realize The Grizzlies in a way that honoured the original spirit of the real-life Kugluktuk Grizzlies team. Over 600 youth from the Arctic participated in workshops both for traditional art forms and acting, even before auditions began. But what was truly spectacular about the production was the commitment by the producers of The Grizzlies to create an environment of collaboration between the south and the north—Inuit and non-Inuit—and also to ensure an atmosphere of inclusion and respect in the depiction of this true story.

As part of this commitment, the producers of The Grizzlies created a paid mentorship program that enabled Indigenous crew, actors, musicians and Inuit creative collaborators to work on the film in each and every department. More than 91 percent of the cast and more than 33 percent of the crew were Indigenous.

Two of the Inuit actors were nominated for 2019 Canadian Screen Awards—lead actor Paul Nutarariaq and supporting actress Anna Lambe, who is a first time actor, both of whom play students. The actors have experienced many of the same challenges as their characters, bringing a level of authenticity and sensitivity to the screen.

The Grizzlies also stars veteran Tantoo Cardinal as the beleaguered high school principal, comedian Will Sasso in a dramatic turn as a burnt-out teacher and Twilight star Booboo Stewart as a natural athlete lacking confidence. The film features original music by Indigenous hip hop artists, including 2019 Canadian Screen Award winners Dan General (DJ Shub), Thomas Lambe (666God) and Adam Tanuyak (Hyper-T) for their song “Trials”. The Grizzlies has already won numerous accolades, including de Pencier the Directors Guild of Canada Award and the Audience Awards in several cities, as well as a nomination from the Writers Guild of Canada.

The Grizzlies was released in Canada by Mongrel Media. Educational screenings including resources for educators will be available this September. The Grizzlies have also partnered with the Embrace Life Council and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) in the north and with We Matter across the country for the #WeMatter campaign as The Grizzlies is launched across the country.

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