New at VIFF: The Grizzlie Truth examines the theft of a basketball team… and sports existentialism

The last shot taken by any Vancouver Grizzlies player happened before I was even born, in a world without the iPhone — or even the iPod. By any definition, the team is long dead. The casket should be closed. Yet — if you listen carefully, you can still hear the echoes of the fans still cheering on their team, twenty years later. Nothing leaves without a trace.

In the case of the Vancouver Grizzlies, they live on through the fans — those passionate enough to still proudly sport their team's colours, even if their team is nothing more than a memory. They include Kat Jayme, whose documentary film about the team, The Grizzlie Truth, debuted at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).

The Grizzlies are a fascinating, almost puzzling part of Vancouver’s past. Originally on an even playing field with the team now synonymous with basketball in Canada, the Raptors, the Grizzlies failed to have the same staying power as their brethren out east, playing out six unimpressive seasons before moving away to find a new home in Memphis, Tennessee.

As a new expansion team, six years is an impressively short lifespan. What could have possibly inspired such a hasty departure from Vancouver? Is the rain here really bad enough to drive away an entire basketball team?

Jayme is set on uncovering the real reason behind the Grizzlies move to Memphis in 2001.

I was immediately taken aback by the sea of bright turquoise jerseys and apparel that flooded the seats of the theatre. I immediately felt drawn back into a bygone era. Even as I strolled the streets of downtown Vancouver, sporting my newly acquired Grizzlies cap, random strangers came up to me to compliment my attire — the type of sporting community you would normally only expect from a team deep in a playoff run.

Yet, for the six years they were here, the Grizzlies never even got close to the playoffs, holding a 101–359 record — the type of losing streak that makes even the most dedicated fan’s stomach turn.

Still, here we were 20 years later. The boundless passion of the fans permeates the film, from their impromptu rallies outside of Rogers Centre, to holding group therapy sessions to gain closure about the death of their beloved Grizzlies.

To any outsider, this type of fervour around a long-dead sports team might seem insane. After all, it is just a sports team. Or, is it?

That ends up being the central question of The Grizzlie Truth. How do we define our relationship to sports, and how can we possibly explain the insane mind of a dedicated fan?

As Jayme reveals, the truth is that sports aren't just sports. Sports are a crucible to form and mold a community. Sports are an avenue to break the ice with a stranger. Sports provide certainty and comfort in an uncertain world.

So, while The Grizzlie Truth’s initial goal as a film was to find who took the Grizzlies from Vancouver, it ultimately ends up being more about why the loss mattered.

Personally, I know I am similar to many of the diehard fans showcased in the documentary. I love sports: I love watching the games, the analysis and cheering on my team.

I’ve seen plenty of documentaries similar to The Grizzlie Truth. The difference here is, while other films get almost too caught up in the intricacies of the story itself, speaking only to their own niche audience, The Grizzlie Truth has enough insight to take a step back, reflecting on nostalgia, family bonds and passion — truths than extend much beyond the world of sport.

While The Grizzlie Truth certainly does a masterful job of analyzing the details behind the departure of the Grizzlies, it also adds in a profoundly human touch by addressing the real emotional impact of the team’s loss.

In the end, it is that extra insight is ultimately what provides a greater sense of catharsis and relief for those mourning the loss of those basketball bears — more than any normal info-dump sports documentary ever could.