Kugluktuk hits the silver screen in film premiering at TIFF this fall

A feature film about a Kugluktuk, Nunavut, lacrosse team will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this September.

The Grizzlies tells true story of how lacrosse helped Nunavut youth overcome intergenerational trauma

The Grizzlies producer Stacey Aglok MacDonald, actress Madeline Piujuq Ivalu and director Miranda de Pencier. (Blake Hannahson)

A feature film about a Kugluktuk, Nunavut, lacrosse team will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this September.

The Grizzlies is based on the true story of youth overcoming intergenerational trauma from residential schools, suicide and other struggles.

It shows how lacrosse made a positive impact on the community, from improving school attendance to reducing teen suicide rates.

"I really hope that it's something that people will respond to and feel inspired by. I know that's how I feel about it," said Stacey Aglok MacDonald, who helped produce the film along with Alethea Arnaquq Baril.

Stacey Aglok MacDonald is one of the producers of the film The Grizzlies. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"I'm really proud of it, but I am still really eager and excited to hear more about what Inuit think about it," said MacDonald.

Production of the film started in 2009. It was directed by Toronto-based Miranda de Pencier.

MacDonald said The Grizzlies is expected to come out in theatres in the spring of 2019. However, the filmmakers plan to have screenings in Nunavut before then.

Truckload of donations

The filmmakers aren't the only ones recognizing the importance of lacrosse to the community.

The fiancée of an RCMP officer who died in a snowmobiling accident near Kugluktuk this April has gathered a load of lacrosse equipment to donate to local youth.

Kelsey Foote has gathered a load of lacrosse equipment for youth in Kugluktuk, which she is bringing north from B.C. (RCMP)

"A few years ago, the suicide rate in Kugluktuk was very high, and a teacher went up there and started a lacrosse program," said Kelsey Foote, who had been living in the community with her fiancé, 30-year-old Cst. Graham Holmes, since late 2016.

She said after the program started, the youth suicide rate dropped to zero and school attendance doubled. However, the program stopped once that teacher left the community. 

Now, someone else wants to start it up again. Foote saw it as the perfect opportunity to help.

Foote recently went home to B.C. to be with her family, but is making another trip north to gather Holmes's belongings.

Before her trip, she reached out to the Victoria Shamrocks lacrosse team in B.C. to ask for help rounding up donations of lacrosse equipment to bring with her. 

"She said that she loved the children up there and she spent lots of time with them, and she knew that a lacrosse program that was introduced a few years previous had made a huge impact on their young lives," said Tom Woods, a former Shamrocks member, who Foote asked to gather gear.

Woods said he was impressed by Foote, who had lost the most important thing in her life and was still thinking of others.

He said when he told the Shamrocks community her story, the response was "overwhelming."

Tom Woods said the Shamrocks helped him gather an entire truck full of lacrosse gear — from sticks to jersey to balls and more. (RCMP)

"They literally gave me a pickup truck full of sticks and helmets and gloves and pads and 150 balls and mesh kits for the sticks," he said. "My truck was full."

Foote said the support people have shown has been overwhelming and amazing.

"I just wanted to do something for the community to show my support and my love for the community, because they were so supportive towards me. And just something to honour Graham's memory," said Foote. 

"It's just so amazing. I don't have any words to describe it."

The RCMP and different airlines have offered to help Foote deliver the gear to the youth in Kugluktuk.

With files from Jordan Konek, Liz McArthur