'A perspective changer': Reflecting harsh realities in 'The Grizzlies'

As the wind howls off Koojesse Inlet on Apex Beach in Iqaluit, Anna Lambe remembered all the scenes she shot there for The Grizzlies.

“I love it here,” Lambe said. She plays Spring in The Grizzlies, based on the true story of an unlikely lacrosse team that rose amidst rampant teen suicide, poverty and abuse.

It follows a teacher who goes up to the remote community of about 1,000 people to teach at the high school. After seeing the daily struggles the community goes through, the teacher tries to introduce the sport of lacrosse as an after-school activity.

The view from Apex Beach in early May. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

The students, apprehensive at first, develop a sense of team, of belonging, of accountability and soon take the reins of the sport, the community behind them.

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The real Grizzlies played in Kugluktuk, more than 2,000 km away from Iqaluit, but much of the film was shot in Nunavut’s capital city, Lambe’s home.

The story is real — almost every major event in the film happened in real life — and Lambe’s character is based on two real people from Kugluktuk — April and Wynter.

She didn’t have the chance to meet either of the women until after the film was shot — but she was able to pull from her experience and from other strong women in her life to deliver in her role as Spring.

“The characters reflect so many people,” Lambe said. “I saw my mom, and I saw my aunts and my grandma. I saw all those people in my character because they had been through so much trauma.

“To channel those feelings and that pain was difficult, but I feel really proud and grateful that I was able to represent and make my family and a lot of other women proud.”

The movie grapples with issues like suicide and substance abuse, many of the same issues northern communities face today. It was hard to tell those truths, Lambe said, but it was necessary.

“Almost every person you speak to knows one person at least who’s committed suicide,” Lambe said. “I could name off 10, easily, and we can’t forget that part of the story because if we forget that part, then the rest of Canada forgets.”

The film shows scenes of families struggling to put food on the table, living in homes that are falling apart with abusive family members. Lambe said showing these experiences on the big screen are vital in helping Canada and the world understand the struggles northern communities face daily.

But it’s just as important to show the resilience and power Inuit have, she added.

Rosanna and Lambe in front of the old Hudson’s Bay post off Apex Beach. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

“I really hope that this is a perspective changer,” Lambe said. “Through perspective change comes support and understanding.”

For those in the North, Lambe wants them to feel represented in the film.

“I really just hope to see hope,” she said. “They can embody The Grizzlies’s story in their own way — they can embody resilience and strength and they can feel like there’s a way out of what they’re going through.

“That’s all I could ever hope for.”

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