Women's hockey mockumentary becomes tribute to slain star, dentist Cindy McCormick
Lighthearted film took on new meaning when McCormick was murdered by her partner 6 weeks after filming ended
Following the tragic death of a cast member and close friend, Quispamsis filmmaker Gretchen Kelbaugh wrapped a playful mockumentary production with a sharper resolve to speak out about intimate partner violence.
Last in League features members of the Moms in Gear hockey team Kelbaugh belongs to, including one of the lead actors, Dr. Cindy McCormick.
McCormick, a dentist and mother of two, was killed in October by her partner Bobby Kaine while the couple were in Alberta. She was 46.
The one-hour film is a comedy about three hockey players, desperate to save their last-place team.
But the lighthearted film took on new meaning for Kelbaugh six weeks after filming ended, when she learned McCormick had died of multiple blunt force blows at the hands of her partner, who was also the team's coach.
"We were all in double shock because we knew them both, and everyone was totally shocked," Kelbaugh said Wednesday on Information Morning Saint John.
"In hindsight, yes, there were a couple of signs and I could have pushed her more. Because the more she was in this relationship, the less I saw of her. And I could have asked about that."
Kelbaugh recalled once seeing McCormick with a bruised lip and regrets not pressing her about going to the hospital.
She said the experience has motivated her to speak out if she ever encounters abusive behaviour.
"I've been interested in intimate partner violence on an intellectual level as a documentary filmmaker, wondering what I could do about this important issue for 10 years," she said.
"So now it's of personal importance to me, not just intellectual."
The violent death of McCormick — a successful dentist and beloved friend — speaks to the complexity of intimate partner violence, said Kate Colwell, a social worker with the Horizon Health Network, who works in domestic violence outreach.
"I think in this incident, it does defy sometimes the stereotypes people have … because sometimes they imagine more vulnerable individuals, or maybe more financially dependent, or different vulnerable factors in their life," she said.
"But human behaviour is unpredictable. This can happen in any household."
There are 14 domestic violence outreach workers throughout the province who can help make a safety plan, or be a resource for people in need of services or a listening ear.
Kelbaugh said it was difficult at first to balance the levity of the film with such a tragic situation. But she said it was McCormick who made the process a healing one.
"When I was finishing the edits after she died, it was hard to see her," Kelbaugh said. "But now I'm to the point where — it's funny. She makes me laugh.
"I showed it to the team first. A couple people said they were afraid it would be too sad, but in the end they were laughing to the point of tears.
"She was a woman who embraced life and taking on new challenges. And she turned out to be a better natural actor than I thought she would be. She was fabulous."
Last in League has its premiere Thursday night at the Mary Oland Theatre in the New Brunswick Museum's Market Square location.
Kelbaugh said McCormick couldn't wait for the film to be released.
"She loved all the footage she saw," she said. "She hoped it would get into a film festival somewhere, so that we could go to it.
"I so wish she could see the movie, because she would enjoy it more than anybody."
With files from Information Morning Saint John