People in Bathurst are awaiting the release of a new television movie that chronicles how the Bathurst High School basketball team’s 2009 championship season helped heal a grieving city.
The northern New Brunswick community was hit by tragedy on Jan. 12, 2008, when a van carrying the Bathurst High School basketball team home from a game in Moncton collided with a transport truck.
Seven players and the coach’s wife were killed in the accident.
But The Phantoms, a movie produced by Dream Street Pictures, picks up the story in the following year and offers a dramatized view of how the basketball team brought the community together as it won the provincial basketball championship.
"It's a story of triumph in the face of adversity, in the face of tragedy, it is a story of hope, it is a story of courage and determination," said Rick LeGuerrier, a producer of the movie.
"It has all of those elements and that is why we thought it was so inspiring and well worth telling in a dramatic form."
Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet said he's looking forward to watching the movie when it airs on Sunday night.
Brunet, who was the mayor when tragedy happened, said the triumph of the school’s basketball team came at such an important time for the community, which was still mourning the loss of the players and teacher.
"It was a real need for our community to have such a feel good story because we had gone through such a difficult time with the tragedy the year before," he said.
The movie was not made without controversy in the northern city. In particular, there was a concern the movie could exploit the tragedy, only a few years after the fatal crash.
And three mothers whose sons died in the van crash wrote the province’s auditor general to review the provincial government’s decision to grant a tax credit to Dream Street Pictures to help make the movie.
Another complaint was filed with the province’s ombudsman over the school district’s decision to allow the producers to film the movie inside the high school.
Dream Street Pictures starting filming the movie in 2011, despite the initial objections.
LeGuerrier said producers approached the project with sensitivity and he pointed out his colleague, Tim Hogan, is from the northern city.
"We would not have made this movie and we would certainly not have shot it in New Brunswick or in Bathurst, where the story took place, had we not felt that there was widespread support," LeGuerrier said.
The producer pointed out many people in Bathurst were extras in the movie.
The city’s mayor acknowledges it is still a difficult subject in the city.
"There are still some people that are grieving and this will bring everything back to the forefront, I suppose, for them," Brunet said.
"We will support them, the community continues to support the families. We're putting up a monument park as we said we would."
Brunet said he feels the film’s producers handled the project with sensitivity.
While the movie is based on the 2009 season, LeGuerrier said there were some dramatic elements added to the story.
The Phantoms airs on CBC Television on Sunday at 8 p.m.
Click here to watch a preview of the movie
He said some characters in the movie were "composites" of real people.
"What we set out to do is capture the heart of what happened in Bathurst, the love in that community, the sense of community that allowed these players to go forward do what they did and in so doing help the community heal from such an awful thing," he said.
The movie airs on CBC Television on Sunday at 8 p.m.