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The Grizzlies film to debut at Toronto International Film Festival

A movie inspired by the emergence of the Kugluktuk Grizzlies lacrosse program as a tool to combat suicide will premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in September.

The film The Grizzlies, which tells of how a lacrosse program in Kugluktuk helped address suicide, will be one of the featured Canadian films to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
photo courtesy of TIFF

The Grizzlies, which was partly shot in Iqaluit in 2016, is among the announced lineup for the prestigious event, which will be held Sept. 6-16.

A screening of the film in Kugluktuk is part of the plan, said Hayley Brown, a coordinator with Northwood Entertainment, the Toronto-based production company behind The Grizzlies.

Brown added that the Toronto premiere will include invites to "our Kugluktuk partners."

While the film was anticipated to be released in 2017, it was postponed due to The Grizzlies director and producer Miranda de Pencier overseeing the CBC TV series Anne, for which she is the executive producer.

"(Anne) went into production last year, delaying the post-process on The Grizzlies," said Brown.

Casting workshops for The Grizzlies were held in Kuglutuk, Iglulik and Iqaluit in 2016 to select Nunavummiut actors.

"The vast majority of our cast is Indigenous, if not Inuit," Brown said.

Kugluktuk's Emerald MacDonald landed a leading role by playing the character Miranda, who she described as very shy and quiet, which MacDonald said is the opposite of her own outgoing nature.

"That is the role I wanted when I auditioned," she said.

It was MacDonald's first time in front of a movie camera, which she admitted was intimidating.

"At first I was really, really nervous and then afterwards it felt natural," she said, adding that it took a couple of days to get comfortable. "I was amazed to see how many people worked on set and seeing everybody on their feet for what felt like 24/7. It's just amazing."

She is eager to see the finished film.

"I'm very nervous and I'm also excited. I haven't seen any of my scenes," said MacDonald, whose sister Stacey Aglok-MacDonald was a producer of The Grizzlies.

The film, which will run 104 minutes, is based on a true story. Although MacDonald, 21, was too young to be a Kugluktuk High School student during the early-to-mid 2000s when the lacrosse program rose to prominence, she knows people in the community who were part of it.

"Talking about the past, it's like I can feel what they feel, but I can't," she said. "I can't imagine to have that news in school about a kid's suicide. It's really sad."

Paul Nutarariaq and Anna Lambe are among other Nunavummiut actors with roles in the film.