The actor-writer-director-producer discusses how the limited series soared as a Crave and APTN lumi original.
(PLAYBACK) May 26, 2023 — On the heels of her 2023 Canadian Academy Board of Directors’ Tribute Award during Canadian Screen Week, Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi actor-writer-director-producer Jennifer Podemski is proving once again why she received the honour for having an “extraordinary impact” on the growth of the industry.

Podemski’s new Crave and APTN lumi original Little Bird (Rezolution Pictures, OP Little Bird), which she developed and co-created with head writer Hannah Moscovitch, hit Canadian screens Friday (May 26).

The Indigenous-led, 6 x 60-minute series – about a woman (played by Darla Contois) who was removed from her childhood home on a Saskatchewan reserve and adopted into a Montreal Jewish family – recently won the audience award at Series Mania, where distributor Fremantle International introduced the title to the global market.

Behind the scenes, Podemski’s non-profit organization the Shine Network Institute continues to offer support for Indigenous women, while Little Bird provided an on-set training program to build capacity and sustainability in the Indigenous screen sector. She’s also getting a Creative Voice Award during next month’s Banff World Media Festival.
What does Little Bird mean to you in the realm of your career?
I’m very proud of this project. This project was incredibly difficult to make. Every day presented new challenges and barriers, and through it there were trauma triggers that felt insurmountable at the time. But with [directors] Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Zoe Hopkins and all of the Indigenous actors and crew with me on the front lines, knowing that we were all facing the same things made me feel less alone. So I now know how important it is to have more than one Indigenous person on the team when making Indigenous content. I also think a lot about what this show will mean to Canadians and policy, my community and all Indigenous people including Sixties Scoop survivors.

Talk about the development process for Little Bird.
I began developing this project with Rezolution Pictures in 2017 with CBC. Hannah joined the team shortly thereafter and we spent a significant amount of time in development. Unfortunately, CBC decided not to move forward with it, which happens, and we were very lucky to pitch to Crave and be greenlit by the beginning of 2022. Shortly after that, APTN came on board.
Hannah and I did a deep dive to restructure and elevate the series to its premium and prestige potential, with the incredible support and guidance of Jeremy Podeswa, who had been with us for a year during development. Zoe Hopkins joined our team as a writer during that time along with our story advisor, Raven Sinclair, and this became the core team. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better team to create with, and a huge shout-out to Hannah who was my partner and co-creator through the entire process.

How was it implementing the training program for Indigenous creators and crew on Little Bird?
It was incredibly difficult to push through. I call all unions, specifically IATSE, to the table to begin the hard conversation around training and employment for Indigenous people in this sector and the genuine barriers we face. That said, we ended up with a really great group of trainees who made the entire experience better for everyone.

What does the Shine Network Institute have planned for the next year?
We have PACT, our online cultural humility course for the screen sector. We will be launching a members-only portal where Indigenous professionals can access resources and tools to help support their work and create access. One of those resources is a Legal Vault that will provide industry standard legal agreements that have been custom-designed for Indigenous producers, productions and processes.

How was the Series Mania experience?
I think our show has officially touched people across the globe and from what I am hearing, there is interest and excitement. The producers, along with Fremantle, are working hard to bring this to the world!

What other film or TV projects do you have on the horizon?
I’m currently developing a few projects, including a feature doc about the history of Indigenous women in cinema. At the moment, I’m self-financing it and looking for partners. I have a development slate that is primarily doc and I’m carefully seeking out the next narrative project.

What advice would you give to others who are hoping to follow in your footsteps in Canada, especially when it comes to producing?
My advice is to not forget your humanity. Producers are a dime a dozen, but those who protect and support the people they work with are few and far between. You don’t have to lose your humanity to be a successful producer.

May 26, 2023

This is an expanded version of a story that originally appeared in Playback‘s Spring 2023 issue
Photo: Jennifer Podemski holding her 2023 Academy Board of Directors’ Tribute trophy during Canadian Screen Week. Photo credit: George Pimentel Photography
Twitter: @evawasney