October 3, 2022

VIFF 2022 | Losing Basketball – Shooting for 'The Grizzlie Truth'

"My love of basketball started and ended with the Grizzlies."
Steve Francis Kathleen S. Jayme | The Grizzlie Truth | VIFF 2022
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2022Finding Big Country director Kathleen S. Jayme revisits her love of the long-departed hometown basketball team, the Vancouver Grizzlies, in a new documentary (her fourth Grizzlies-related project) with a light true-crime approach, The Grizzlie Truth. Despite ostensibly documenting facets of multi-billion dollar sports industries, Jayme takes a personal touch in telling her own story, what many other (at the time) young fans felt, and how the city was seemingly abandoned by the NBA.

Unlike her previous Grizzlies-themed documentary focused exclusively on getting an interview with the elusive former player Bryant Reeves, Truth is a feature-length film entirely about "losing" beyond just Vancouver's loss of their only professional basketball franchise. Jayme's access is unparalleled with a plenty of fascinating talking head interviews from superfans to former players and personnel.

After so much time having passed, there's space for more nuanced reflections on the different reasons leading to the Grizzlies leaving town for Memphis. So many basketball personalities show up to talk about the departed team including those who fans felt were chiefly responsible for its doomed fate. Everyone involved and interviewed comes off fairly well with equal parts reverence and regret for how things turned out.

Jayme's sort of faux true-crime mystery element often feels unnecessary due to the lack of real tension. For a documentary made by and featuring mostly dedicated fans, it (wisely) presumes little awareness about the NBA team's departure some twenty years later. However, there's already a wealth of public knowledge about the Grizzlies' unsuccessful six-year run in Vancouver and Jayme assembles much of it in a nicely nostalgic package. Still, not much new is revealed—aside from the A+ interviews with those previously unheard from including former General Manager Stu Jackson and infamous second-overall draft pick Steve Francis—for keen observers who followed the Grizzlies' short history in Canada closely.

Steve Francis Kathleen S. Jayme | The Grizzlie Truth | VIFF 2021 Photon Films / Bell Media
By far the most compelling segment is when Jayme visits Memphis and interviews her superfan counterpart, Antonio Braxton, and his equally Grizzlies-obsessed young son, Antonio Jr. This heartwarming sequence forces her to rethink her own fandom in a bit of genuine self-reflection. Many of her subjects were kids when the Grizzlies left and never followed them in Tennessee. Clearly, it was more than a team and watching them from afar was too heartbreaking yet allowed for new fans to be made.

Jayme's passion and enthusiasm for the Vancouver Grizzlies once again shine through. The Grizzlie Truth offers much for fans and non-fans alike. Since their 1995-2002 run, so much has changed from hundred-million-dollar player contracts to billion-dollar franchise evaluations. Her documentary feels like a time capsule reflecting on a possibly more pure time in pro sports. Although, I have bad news about the staggering economics of the NBA for fans wanting another team.

The Grizzlie Truth premiered at the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations series at The Centre for Performing Arts and screens again on October 5th. It also screens virtually as part of the 2022 Vancouver Asian Film Festival online from November 7th to 13th.

Following the premiere, several former Grizzlies including Antonio Harvey, George Lynch, Tony Massenburg, mascot Grizz, Steve Francis himself, and others reunited for a special Grizzlies Reunion at šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn (Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza).

More | YVArcade / CBC / POV / TSN

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