The Grizzlies

The Flicks-owner Ramon Stoppelenburg recalls how he met these kids himself during his travels to Kugluktuk, Canada, in 2003, on his blog. He was hosted by the teacher Becky Harding, during his travels around the world (for free) with his own social network Letmestayforaday.com. 

THE GRIZZLIES is based on the inspiring true story of a group of Inuit students in a small Arctic town that had one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world, due to a history of residential schools, and intergenerational trauma.

The classmates are initially resistant when a new, naive and culturally ignorant white teacher, Russ Sheppard, from “The South” introduces them to lacrosse—but gradually, as they begin to connect with each other as teammates, the students’ find inspiration to make profound shifts in their lives.

Together as “The Grizzlies”, the players learn to lead each other, gain the support of a deeply divided town, and look to compete in the National Lacrosse Championships.

The students’ ultimately discover that success doesn’t lie in the outcome of a lacrosse game, but instead in their awakened spirits and the awareness that even in the toughest of circumstances there is always the possibility of transformation and hope.

THE GRIZZLIES is more than an inspiring sports drama as it is set in one of the most unique places on earth, starring fresh, young actors in starring roles.

Unlike many sports/coach/inspiring teacher films, THE GRIZZLIES is not just a story about a teacher who affected his student’s lives – it is a true story about a group of Inuit students who changed their teacher and eventually their whole community for the better.

When Russ Sheppard comes into their lives they are suffering from abuse, many are drinking heavily, using drugs, and all had been touched by suicide. It took Russ looking deeply into himself and coming to terms with his own vulnerability and ignorance before he could connect with the kids.

When he finally did, they ended up transforming him – as well as themselves and their whole community. Russ maintains to this day that the kids changed him much more than he did them, and that the kids are the real heroes of this story.

“The people who established the Grizzlies in the early 2000s now have Grizzly kids. So it’s still running,” says director Aglok MacDonald. “And a big reason why the program was so successful was because the youth were a part of running it. They learned how. They were an active part of it. It wasn’t just something that the teachers created and that the teachers held onto,” she says. “They really put the power into the hands of the students.”

The Flicks-owner Ramon Stoppelenburg recalls how he met these kids himself during his travels to Kugluktuk, Canada, in 2003, on his blog. He was hosted by the teacher Becky Harding, whose colleague Russ introduced lacrosse to town during his travels around the world (for free) with his own social network Letmestayforaday.com. 

Winner of the Palm Springs International Film Festival 2019.

1h 42min | Biography, Drama | English subtitles for Inuit parts only

From Ramon’s weekly video blog (2003!):