Theoren Fleury's first Victor Walk took him from Toronto to Ottawa.
The film documenting this 2013 journey has gone to film festivals in California, Kentucky and, this week, to Whistler.
The former NHLer completed the 400-kilometre walk from the Child Abuse Monument in Toronto to Parliament Hill to raise awareness of child abuse and encourage the federal government to pass laws for tougher penalties against those who sexually abuse children. In 2015, the Conservative government passed Bill C-26, the Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act.
Fleury, now 48, is a survivor of notorious predator Graham James, his coach with the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors. Fleury went on to star in the NHL, helping the Calgary Flames to a Stanley Cup in 1989 and playing in seven All-Star Games. But he was haunted by his abuse and became addicted to alcohol and cocaine, remaining silent until he revealed that he had suffered at James' hands in his 2009 book
Playing With Fire.
Fleury also filed a criminal complaint and James received a two-year sentence as a result.
The documentary follows Fleury throughout his journey and tells his story, but the heart of the film comes from the fellow survivors he meets along the way who are willing to open up not only face-to-face with him, but on camera as well.
"It's an important documentary only from the fact that the world of sexual abuse is bigger than I could have ever imagined," said Fleury in a phone interview on Nov. 28.
"That this documentary will have the impact it's going to have is absolutely amazing.
"I'd already been around the subject long enough and whenever I have a speaking event, we get anywhere between five and 10 people coming up after I speak saying 'Me too' or telling us their story or their experience with sexual victimization."
It can be difficult to hear the nightmares that so many people have lived, but director Michael Lynch stressed that the film's emphasis lies not in their pasts, but in their futures — or as Fleury puts it, changing the emphasis from victim of abuse to victor over abuse.
Lynch approached Fleury hoping to make a Hollywood movie based on his life — a Rudy-like tale of overcoming short stature and other adversity. But James received his two-year sentence just as Lynch was writing the script and around the same time, Fleury decided to put together the Victor Walk. Fleury's toughness and tenacity, which attracted Lynch to his story as a fan, is what he hopes viewers connect with as he shares what he's been through in the documentary.
"There's the power of 'If he's not losing his manhood, if he's not losing what he identifies himself as being by coming forward, I'm not going to lose who I am,'" Lynch said. "That's what allowed everyone to open up on the road and allows people to open up after they've seen the movie.
"When they tell you, though, you see the weight lifted off of them and you can see how they're so excited they can finally share that."
While Fleury said he was prepared for the number of people who share their story with him after experiencing it as part of his book tour, Lynch, himself a survivor, wasn't expecting that reaction during the walk.
That was, in part, because of the short two-month timeline from the idea of the Victor Walk to its execution and that much of getting the word out came from a media blitz one day before leaving Toronto.
"We had no idea if people were going to show up or not show up. Luckily, they did," Lynch said. "Day 1 of the walk, the only person that came out was Dr. Mike (Dr. Michael Irving, whose abuse began as an infant).
"Every time someone came, that kept us going no matter how sore our bodies got from having to walk 25 miles (40 kilometres) a day."
After the Ontario walk in 2013, Fleury went from Edmonton to Calgary in 2015 and from his hometown of Russell, Man. to Winnipeg this past summer. Next year, the route will go from Saskatoon to Regina.
Victor Walk will screen at the Maury Young Arts Centre (MYAC) at 10 p.m. on Dec. 1 and at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre on Dec. 2 as part of the Whistler Film Festival (WFF). Fleury will also be honoured with a Humanitarian Award at the MYAC on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.
Fleury and Lynch, as well as roughly a dozen members of the team and their friends, are slated to be in attendance.
"The first walk that we did, for all seven of us that were involved in the very first Victor Walk, I know that each of us as (people), our lives were changed by having done this," Fleury said.
After winning Best Documentary at the Dances With Films festival in Hollywood this summer and appearing at Louisville's International Festival of Film in Kentucky, the WFF will mark the film's Canadian debut.
More information on the film and the Victor Walk is available at www.victorwalk.com.
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