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Canadian Sport Film Festival: ‘Keepers Of The Game’ & ‘Crossing The Line’

The ninth instalment of the Canadian Sport Film Festival runs this weekend, June 9–11, at TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto. The Canadian Sport Film Festival’s 2017 lineup features 23 films which will screen over three days. The festival slate is comprised of feature and short length films, documentaries and animation.

Sordid Cinema had the chance to catch the Canadian Sport Film Festival’s opening night and closing night movies, Keepers of the Game and Crossing the Line, and if these two films reflect the overall quality of this year’s lineup, filmgoers have plenty of reason for excitement. If you’re passionate about movies and sports, then the 2017 Canadian Sport Film Festival is an enticing mashup (a cinematic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup), but even if you’re a cinephile that’s lukewarm on sports, the festival features a captivating mix of films that non-sports fans can enjoy.

Opening Night Film: Keepers Of The Game

‘Keepers of the Game’

In sports, sometimes wins and losses matter less than the stories unfolding around the game; quite often, the community surrounding a sport transcends the game itself. Early on in Judd Ehrlich’s documentary Keepers of the Game, someone states “Lacrosse isn’t a sport – it’s a gift from the creator.” The residents of Akwesasne Mohawk Territory (in upstate New York) all seem to agree with lacrosse’s sacred nature. The problem is that the community believes god’s divine gift was only passed down to men.

The film follows the Salmon River High Shamrocks girls lacrosse team (comprised of First Nations players). We watch the Shamrocks’ season unfold as they chase a Section Championship on the field and battle discrimination off of it. The pervasive line of thinking within Akwesasne Mohawk Territory is that Lacrosse isn’t for girls, so the Shamrocks must face scrutiny from their own community as they compete against off-reservation NY high schools. And in a turn straight out of an 80s teen movie, the Shamrocks’ season takes them on a collision course with their crosstown rivals, the Messina High Red Raiders – how is this name still a thing?

‘Keepers of the Game’

Ehrlich only introduces us to a few of the Shamrock’s two dozen players so that he may take a deeper dive into fewer stories. Among them are two sisters who transferred from rival Messina High due to bullying, and a young woman vying for a college scholarship. By the end of the film, the Section title matters less than watching these inspiring young ladies overcome obstacles off of the field.

Keepers of the Game highlights two essential messages for kids coming of age in today’s digital monoculture: be defiant when facing adversity, and don’t forget who you are in the face of assimilation. I can’t wait to share the film and its positive messages with my nieces (and nephews).

Closing Night Film: Crossing The Line

‘Crossing the Line’

We’re awed by world-class athletes because their physical gifts are so far beyond our own they may as well be characters in a Marvel movie. When we watch athletes perform at peak level, their uncanny talents look effortless. These talents aren’t god given gifts, instead stemming from each athlete’s obsessive desire to be the best; Kobe Bryant wasn’t born with a jump shot – he spent more time in a gym than everyone you know combined. Crossing the Line‘s director, David Tryhorn, examines the highs and lows that come with that intense inner drive. The result is a poignant look at a life fueled by talent and ambition, but haunted by failure.

At 18-years old, Danny Harris is a track and field prodigy. Harris’ scorching times in the 400-metre hurdles takes him from off-the-radar high school standout to Olympic athlete in the blink of an eye. Thrust into the spotlight, Harris barely has time to adjust to fame and fortune before everything starts slipping away, and when Harris fails to qualify for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, his life takes a shocking turn.

When the film begins, we learn that in the mid-2000’s, the police took Harris into custody for an alleged crime. The film then jumps back to early in Harris’ career and showcases his glory days and eventual downfall. Harris stars in the documentary, and he talks us through most of his story. He has an engaging personality that left me eager to hear about his life’s twists and turns.

Sometimes inspiring, sometimes painful to watch, Crossing the Line is always riveting. Danny Harris’ story is one of highs, lows, and constant adversity. Even if you don’t enjoy sports, Crossing the Line is an entertaining watch filled with shocking moments and powerful insights.

The Canadian Sport Film Festival 2017 runs from June 9-11. For movies, showtimes, and ticket purchases go to www.sportfilmfestival.ca

Written By

Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based pop culture writer and film critic who enjoys covering the city's biggest (and nerdiest) events. Victor has covered TIFF, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada for publications all over the internet. You can find his latest posts on Twitter and Instagram.

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