By Sam Laskaris
Two Indigenous-themed movies will be among those shown at this this year’s Canadian Sport Film Festival.
The ninth annual festival, which runs June 9 to June 11 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, will include a total of 23 films.
The festival features various length films, documentaries and animations that show different ways sports, recreation and play are vital to peoples’ lives.
The movies with Indigenous themes are Salluit Run Club and Keepers of the Game.
Salluit Run Club documents seven Inuit teenage runners from a remote northern Quebec community. The teens all train in their community and travel to compete in a half marathon (21.1-kilometre) race in Hawaii in March of 2016.
Keepers of the Game chronicles the ups and down of a girls’ high school field lacrosse team from the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, which straddles the Ontario, Quebec and state of New York borders.
Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher who started the running club in Salluit, said the film was originally made simply to give copies to the participating runners who travelled to Hawaii. The plan was to also give copies to family members of the runners who were unable to attend the race and to those donors who helped the teens raise the $30,000 they required to cover their expenses for the event.
“That was the original intent,” MacDonnell said. “We didn’t know it would be used for larger use.”
MacDonnell also made headlines earlier this year when she was awarded a $1 million (U.S.) global teaching prize for the various projects she runs in Salluit.
MacDonnell said it was a former university friend, Russell Field, who suggested she send a copy of the Salluit Run Club to see if it was worthy of being included into the Canadian Sport Film Festival. Field is the festival’s executive director.
After viewing the movie, festival organizers opted to include it as part of this year’s schedule.
MacDonnell’s husband Abdullah Kafashe also travelled to Hawaii with the Salluit contingent. He shot the footage for the film and then did the editing to create the final product, a 34-minute film.
Education officials were impressed. In fact, MacDonnell and runners from her school travelled to Nunavik, located in the northern parts of Quebec, this past December to show the film and have question and answer sessions at five elementary and high schools.
From those presentations, two other schools have also started their own running clubs.
MacDonnell said she would be interested in having additional presentations in other schools.
“Everything would be funding dependent,” she said.
Salluit, which has a population of about 1,450, is a remote fly-in community. Travel to anywhere can be costly.
And MacDonnell is also uncertain if Salluit Run Club will eventually be shown at any other festival.
“We’re so naïve,” she said. “We don’t know how to play the festival circuit.”
Besides footage of the group’s trip to Hawaii, the film also includes conversations with all of the teens on why they started running. Various reasons are given, including the desire to try to live active and healthy lives in a community that has been plagued with suicides, violence as well as alcohol and drug abuse.
“I think it was important to them," MacDonnell said. “They wanted to talk about it and say those things. It was big for them to talk about that in the film.”
MacDonnell is glad to see how committed the teens have become with their running – and not for the obvious health benefits they are receiving.
“It allows the youth to build resilience to some of the struggles they face on a daily basis,” she said.
MacDonnell also thinks it’s huge for the students to see how far-reaching their accomplishments are becoming.
“I’m really excited for the youth to know what they have done,” she said. “I tell them not only has your story inspired your parents and your community. Now you’re getting a chance to inspire non-Inuit and non-Indigenous youth as well.”
MacDonnell said there are no other current projects in the works. But she would be thrilled to see more films come out of Salluit.
“I think we’d love to get more people behind the camera,” she said. “There are so many amazing stories to share.”
As for Keepers of the Game, it chronicles the 2015 season of the Salmon River high school girls’ varsity team in upper New York state.
The club faces its share of struggles to field a club, including the perception from many that only males should be playing the sport.
Despite various setbacks the squad goes on to win a championship, beating a nearby rival in the final.