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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation is a cultural and historical lesson about the Iroquois nation disguised as a sports documentary. The film follows the Iroquois Nationals team as they host and compete in the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship, marking the first time that an indigenous nation has hosted an international sporting event. Although the content itself is fine for elementary-aged kids (no swearing, sex, or smoking/drinking of note), this slow-paced film might not hold their attention (unless they're huge lacrosse fans). There's some aggressive lacrosse gameplay, with many scenes of players pushing, shoving, and hitting each other with sticks during games. But this is countered by players' messages about their feelings of peacefulness and spirituality associated with the game. Several brands are mentioned or shown, including a scene involving a sponsorship deal between the Iroquois Nationals and Nike. The film is very respectful of the Haudenosaunee culture and addresses challenging topics like historical atrocities and ongoing prejudice in a clear, non-manipulative way. And there are strong messages around teamwork, respect, and perseverance.
What's the story?
SPIRIT GAME: PRIDE OF A NATION tells the story of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team and the game's cultural significance to the Iroquois (six indigenous nations based in the area around upstate New York). Lacrosse, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, was originally the "medicine game," invented by the Iroquois, who refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee, more than 1,000 years ago. After a decades-long struggle to be recognized internationally both as a sovereign nation and as lacrosse competitors, the Haudenosaunee hosted the men's 2015 FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. In the film, Haudenosaunee leaders recall how, over the course of the championship's 10 days, political, spiritual, and athletic matters came together on a world stage.
Is it any good?
This compelling documentary uses the game of lacrosse to show the Iroquois people's pride and passion for their culture and history, but it tries to do too much. It's like the filmmakers weren't quite sure who their audience was or what type of movie they wanted Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation to be. If it's supposed to be a sports documentary, why not focus more on the charming, competitive Thompson brothers, world-class lacrosse players who flew out in between their professional playoff games to try out for the Iroquois Nationals team? Or, if it's supposed to be a story about hosting the World Championships, why not shine a bigger spotlight on how a nation of only 100,000 people came together to host an international sporting event? And, if the focus is the Haudenosaunee struggle for sovereignty, did there really need to be so much game footage?
But you'll likely forgive the lack of focus because each storyline is so interesting and well-told. With Haudenosaudee leaders speaking for themselves, it's hard not to see the parallel between the Iroquois Nationals' attempts to play lacrosse internationally and the Haudenosaunee attempts to be respected by political and spiritual leaders. The comparison is first implied when Lacrosse Hall of Famer/Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons talks about having to convince the Federation of International Lacrosse to allow the Iroquois Nationals to compete in a game their ancestors invented. The case only gets stronger when players with Haudenosaunee passports are blocked from traveling and competing overseas and when the Canadian National Team strangely refuses to get their passports stamped by Haudenosaunee officials. In spite of all the politics, the movie ends on a heartwarming note, highlighting the subjects' spiritual connection to the game and their desire to share it with generations to come.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the history of lacrosse. Did you know before watching Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation that the game was invented by the Iroquois people more than 1,000 years ago? How could you find out more about the sport if you wanted to?
Oren Lyons says of the Iroquois Nationals, "We lost many games, but we were never defeated." What does this mean? How does it represent perseverance?
How would you describe your own relationship with sports? Is it an important part of your family or culture?
What do you think about the "Doctrine of Discovery"? Is it a justifiable law or a discriminatory one?
- In theaters: May 26, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: June 20, 2017
- Cast: Oren Lyons, Al Gore, Bill Belichek
- Directors: Peter Spirer, Peter Baxter
- Studio: XLrator Media
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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