Several hundred people rose to their feet applauding Sheldon Kennedy after watching a screening of his new, aptly named, documentary Swift Current Friday night in that city.
The film – which had three-time Academy Award winner Mark Jonathan Harris involved – details the former NHLer’s victimization at the hands of convicted pedophile Graham James while he played for the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. The documentary also follows Kennedy’s downward spiral afterward, along with his recovery.
The film was shown to a packed theatre inside the Living Sky Casino where packets of tissues were carefully placed among the seats, anticipating an emotional night.
“To me that film is hopeful; that there’s a way out, there’s way to get your life back and that we all have a piece to help in somebody,” said Kennedy after the screening.
A number of dignitaries took in the movie, including Premier Brad Wall with a front row seat, a native of the city himself.
“It’s hard not to be caught up in the courage of Sheldon,” he said.
Someone who knows Kennedy’s pain all too well also took in the evening.
“It showed the healing. It showed the process. It showed steps of how Sheldon came and what happened and where he is today and the ripple effect along the way,” said fellow victim of Graham James, Todd Holt.
“It’s just raw pain. This is just raw truth, emotion coming out of a screen that people are truly going to benefit from.”
After about a 90 minute journey through Kennedy’s rollercoaster life, the audience gave a respectful round of applause as the documentary finished. The former hockey star then sat down with Swift Current Mayor Jerrod Schafer and fielded questions up on the stage.
“It really hits you like a truck. I don’t think people really realize the long-term impacts of abuse and, I don’t know, if it doesn’t motivate you to take action I’m not sure what would,” said Schafer, who used Friday to also launch a new screening and education initiative for volunteers who work with youth.
“[The film] just does nothing for me but motivate me to do more than what we’re doing right now.”
The city will now have a more robust registration and certification process for city-funded organizations where adult volunteers work closely with kids. It’s the first of its kind in the country, focusing not only on criminal background checks, but also on education for volunteers in spotting the signs and symptoms of a child experiencing abuse.
“They’re in a position to be leaders. If anybody has the opportunity to turn something very negative into something very positive it’s this city,” said Kennedy.
Many agree, if the cloud of guilt and shame over the city hasn’t already been lifted, it’s now well on its way to being eliminated after roughly three decades.
“It’s really like the air’s been let out of a balloon here. Lots of healing in Swift Current and great to move forward as a leader,” said the mayor.
“One thing I do know when it comes to these issues is that together we’re better,” explained Kennedy.
Rogers Hometown Hockey events are planned all weekend in the city whose slogan is “Where Life Makes Sense”. As well, Kennedy’s former team, the Broncos, will make a special presentation to him before Sunday afternoon’s home game against the Moose Jaw Warriors.