TIFF 2018 Interview: Emerald MacDonald and Paul Nutarariaq Talk “The Grizzlies”

Bullying in school and outside of it. The troubled young generation goes through this everyday struggle like a skillful surfer paddling against the largest waves; if everything is done right, they can get through it, if not, the outcome can be fatal.

No matter how harsh this may sound, that’s the reality of a certain region where ingenious people have to prove something every day when there is no need for it. Students at school are under enormous pressure either because of the school that disregards their needs, or willfully do nothing about it.

A program called “The Grizzlies” was a turning point for Inuits’ school, when the teacher does what all his other colleagues must do – to reinvent, if necessary, to do the right things for those who need to be pushed further for a brighter future with a healthy mentality.

As for the interview coverage, I am here to introduce you to first time actor, Emerald MacDonald (Miranda) and Paul Nutarariaq (Zach), whose insightful and thoughtful answers give a glimpse of the importance of having “The Grizzlies” program, which I hope you will be able to check out playing at a cinema near you.

MOVIEMOVESME: Why being a part of “The Grizzlies” was so important to both of you?

Emerald MacDonald: To help send a message out for the other kids that also grow on a path where we all been, which is the struggles that life brings you.

Paul Nutarariaq: Yeah, sometimes it feels like we’re alone, but like she said we struggle together, we are all walking on the same path a lot of the times, you know. And sometimes we feel like we’re so alone, but really we’re all right next to each other and we’re just strutting along. We trip and fall but we get right back up and here we are.

Emerald MacDonald: I like to think of it as we’re all fighting the same battle but all of us are on different stages of that so …

MOVIEMOVESME: It’s very interesting because she’s (Emerald MacDonald’s Miranda) the leader but she has that personality where she prefers to be invisible, so why is it that you think Miranda does that? Is it to support the team?

Emerald MacDonald: Yeah, I think so. I guess she had an interest in it but really didn’t know how to communicate with other people because she was so closed and shy but it got to her and I guess that helped her a lot.

Zach (Paul Nutarariaq) a scene from THE GRIZZLIES, Photo by Shane Mahood, courtesy of Mongrel Media

MOVIEMOVESME: In terms of the suicide rates I hear it was one of the highest in Inuits, perhaps still is. How important do you think it is for the students or for the teachers or for the school to help those students?

Paul Nutarariaq: So the biggest thing is that sometimes you live so close to people that you get tired of each other, even though you’re struggling, sometimes you’re all struggling and sometimes that makes it harder for you to work with each other on these struggles or to help each other get up and away from the struggles. Mind my words, for a white man who knows nothing about the experiences of these Inuit to totally change their lives around for the better is amazing, because once you remove yourself from a situation or you go into a situation and you are removed, like say you had no idea about what was going on before sometimes that makes it a little easier for people. For the stranger to introduce them to something that they have a deeper interest in, to build them up and to give them a goal to strive for, I think that’s one of the most important things, to influence them and to show them that there are better things in life than to do drugs and drink, and smoke cigarettes and just hang out by the co-op.

MOVIEMOVESME: The teacher here, he’s likened to Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in “Dangerous Minds”. He has no experience, but do you think that the inexperienced teacher, at least in this film, cares about students more than those who are highly qualified but do nothing about their students?

Paul Nutarariaq: That’s really something else too. A very young teacher who is probably just getting out of school to come up to north, where he has no idea about anything and their way of life. And for him to integrate his experience from the south and the new experiences that he’s taking with all these troubled children, it’s a very beautiful story. It really is something else, you know, and he takes something he knows and a bunch of kids and their struggles that he doesn’t know and he mixes them together and it just coagulates very well. They create a new experience for these youth, that he gives them a goal to work for, a new reason to live and he makes them better people than when he found them. And he in turn also became a better person.

MOVIEMOVESME: Emerald, you are the first time actor, how was it for you to act?

Emerald MacDonald: Experiencing this whole thing, at first I was so nervous to meet all the cast members and the crew. I didn’t know how they were- even being in front of the camera, so nervous. But after days I got used to it, I felt like I was a natural and getting used to having so much people around me. It is amazing. I had a lot of fun, family became friends, new adventures. Definitely one for the books.

MOVIEMOVESME: Emerald, I’m quite amazed – First you did a great job in the movie, but then you were working as a guard in the jail on night shift!

Emerald MacDonald: Yes, I was.

MOVIEMOVESME: How would you compare what you saw or what you performed in the movie and what happened in jail? In terms of emotions?

Emerald MacDonald: In the jail, it was mostly for drunk people.

Paul Nutarariaq: It was almost like a drunk tank.

Emerald MacDonald: Yeah, a drunk tank and holding people in for court from other communities. Yeah, it was mostly for drunk people.

Paul Nutarariaq: But you do see a lot of similar outcries, like the emotions.

Emerald MacDonald: Yeah, a lot of anger that’s from the drunk people. I quit that job because it got to the point where they’re kicking, screaming non-stop. Banging on the doors and at that point I felt so scared. It’s like that door’s gonna break. I know it wouldn’t but it just felt like that cos they’d be screaming for hours and hours. And I was like, I’m done. It’s too scary now.

MOVIEMOVESME: Paul, how was the process? The set, I’m sure was filled with so many people, so how was it to build up that communications with them to bring that friendly environment and the mood/attitude?

Paul Nutarariaq: It was a really great set. We had a few different places to shoot but it was pretty multi-cultural because we had a couple of Anishinaabe young boys who were in the film with us. I guess, for the boys it was really good for us because they know how to play lacrosse, they know how to string up their sticks and they showed us a few techniques to make us look better for certain scenes. We had several different white people from different parts of Canada and different ethnic backgrounds and many different types of Inuit. Some of us came from north-west territories. Some of us came from way west from Nunavut and some of us were from Banff, and some from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, so it was really cool. Sure, we might all be from Canada. Some of us might all be from Nunavut but there’s still great diversity even within the one territory. It was really fun. We got along, we all became just one big crazy little family and it was awesome.

MOVIEMOVESME: What would you like to tell the students, people, especially the teenagers who struggle in everyday life or even at school when they’re being bullied?

Paul Nutarariaq: Don’t focus on your pain, focus on your healing, because when you just keep talking about your pain and looking at your pain and your struggles, you’re only bringing yourself down or keeping yourself down. You’re cementing that kind of feeling mentally and you’re not gonna grow from that. You gotta think on how you can heal and work towards that, and just keep pushing.

Emerald MacDonald: I would like to say that if you have struggles getting help, there are some people that have some patients for you to get them message out there, because when a kid is struggling, we’ll give them a time to help them to what they are trying to say. I just want to say that I really hope a lot of kids will open up to other people like teachers or their best friends or aunts and uncles, even parents.

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