TIFF 2018: The Grizzlies – An Inspiring Sports Drama

The Grizzlies. Courtesy of TIFF.

The Grizzlies takes us to the Arctic where a teacher new to the area must come up with ways to inspire his students if it means keeping them alive.

We’re taken back in time to 2004 when the small town of Kugluktuk, Nunavut had one of the highest teen suicide rates around the globe.  When Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) takes on a job teaching history at the Kugluktuk High School, he’s in for a whole new world.  A math teacher, Mike Johnson (Will Sasso), takes him under his wing.  Here’s this white guy from somewhere in the Canadian South thinking that he can educate these students.  The fact is that they don’t want him there.  They would rather not be doing homework and just leave class for the hell of it.

One day while Russ is jogging, something just clicks.  What if he could get these students to play lacrosse?  Could more students stay alive rather than kill themselves?  While initially hesitant at first, they start to sign on board.  Before you know it, they start to live a more meaningful life.  Not only have they brought themselves together as a team but they’ve inspired their small Inuit town to come together.  The students even have earned the chance to travel to Toronto for the U19 Canadian National Lacrosse Championships.  Win or lose, they’re all winners for just making it to that point.

Sports may bring people together but activities also provide a way to keep people off the streets.  This is the beauty of The Grizzlies.  While you could label the film about sports, there’s so much more.  Education is one of the cornerstones of the film.  You have this teacher who is new to this area of Canada but he’s too far in over his head.  Then you have the students who would rather be doing nothing.  One day, everything just clicks and he starts up a lacrosse club if it means students having a place to go.

Two television veterans, Graham Yost and Moira Walley-Beckett, have teamed up to pen this inspiring true story.  Whether it’s the score or the shot selection, director Miranda de Pencier frames the film in such a way that reminds us of the great sports films.  This is definitely the type of film that no longer gets made.  It’s based on a true story and The Grizzlies is a film that one could see coming from the likes of Touchstone Pictures in another era.

The Grizzlies is more than the typical inspiring sports drama because this film offers us hope.  This film is about a group of students who came together as a family and changed their community for the better.

DIRECTOR:  Miranda de Pencier
SCREENWRITERS:  Graham Yost, Moira Walley-Beckett
CAST:  Ben Schnetzer, Emerald MacDonald, Booboo Stewart, Paul Nutarariaq, Ricky Lee Marty-Pahtaykan, Tantoo Cardinal, Eric Schweig, and Will Sasso

The Grizzlies holds its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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