REGINA — For filmmaker Lucas Frison, the story of hitting the ice after a life-altering tragedy like the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash is about more than just surviving through hardship: it's about being inspired.
Frison’s 2019 documentary Humboldt: The New Season is one of several Saskatchewan films screening at the Regina International Film Festival & Awards this week.
Frison said he is honoured to see it hit Saskatchewan screens, and shared some insight into the behind-the-scenes making of the film — which is a close-to-heart story for many in Saskatchewan.
Humboldt: The New Season follows two players, Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter, who returned to play for the Broncos in the 2018-19 season after the fatal bus crash that took the lives of 16 and injured 13 of their teammates the year before.
The film also includes survivors Tyler Smith, Kaleb Dahlgren and Layne Matechuk, as they focused on their recovery off the ice; the parents of Logan Boulet, who lost his life in the accident but made waves across the country by donating all of his organs; and the family of assistant coach Mark Cross, who also passed.
“All of the survivors, the families, they were incredible to talk to and hear their stories,” he continued. “There are some really inspiring people involved, and it was an honour to tell their stories.”
Frison and co-director Kevin Eastwood spent almost a year with the players and families, and the film really tells the story of grappling with a new reality and coming to terms with moving forward.
“It's really a documentary story about resilience, perseverance,” said Frison. “It was an emotional roller coaster at times, but it was also very rewarding because of the people involved. They are what made this possible.”
Frison, a Regina-based filmmaker and co-founder of Prairie Cat Productions, said the initial driving force behind creating the documentary was his life-long personal friendship with Cross, and feeling like he had to do something to honour the coach and his team.
“It was definitely a challenging film to make,” said Frison. “This one had, for myself, a very emotional story to tell but it goes beyond what I was feeling personally.”
The Humboldt Broncos tragedy was one that deeply affected the entire province of Saskatchewan, said Frison, and he felt like there was an emotional need for many — including himself — to continue the story past the tragic headlines.
“It’s a story that we knew had reached a lot of people, in the real world and on the news,” said Frison. “For most people in Saskatchewan, and beyond, there was a lot of emotion, even if they didn’t know someone directly involved, and so it was a difficult thing to do because of that.”
He said audience feedback so far has described the film as “inspirational, to see the survivors and how they’re moving forward with their lives after something unthinkable happens.”
Frison also hopes the film falls into step with the positive legacies that late players, like Boulet, have left behind.
But for Frison, he said the experience of taking this journey with these young hockey players was one that taught him incredible things about healing and inner strength in the wake of devastation.
“Sometimes a person has to wonder, where do they find the strength?” said Frison. “And it really was a learning experience for everyone, that you have to persevere and there is a way forward.”
Humboldt: The New Season was produced with help from CBC,and first premiered in 2019. The film has featured at a few film festivals since, winning several awards and landing a nomination for Best Documentary Program at the 2020 Canadian Screen Awards.
“The reception was positive, and that’s always gratifying as a filmmaker,” said Frison. “It just helped reinforce that there was a good reason to make this film and all the hard work that went into it.”
The film was originally meant to show at RIFFA in 2020 but the event was cancelled, so Frison said it was an honour to be invited back this year, as a prairie filmmaker telling a prairie story.
“The whole reason you make a film is because you want people to watch it and you want to, hopefully, have a small impact on their lives when they do,” said Frison. “So any kind of festival is a great tool for filmmakers.”
RIFFA 2021 is taking place from Aug. 10-14, with festival passes or individual film passes available to purchase online at riffa.ca.