How Rezolution Pictures and Original Pictures told the story of Little Bird “the right way.”
Coming on board as the global distributor for Little Bird was both an emotional and business decision for Fremantle.

Kim Todd, Original Pictures founder and executive producer of the series, tells Playback that Dante Di Loreto, Fremantle’s North American president of scripted entertainment was “moved” by the story and how co-creator and showrunner Jennifer Podemski intended to tell it when he met with the series’ creative team in 2021.

“The fact that Fremantle came in and made an advance against sales meant that they believed they were going to make sales all over the world,” adds Todd. “And, that’s what they’re doing.”

The six-part Crave and APTN lumi limited series, co-created by Podemski and head writer Hannah Moscovitch, has been sold in the U.S. (PBS), Croatia (HRT), Israel (Hot) and Portugal (RTP), with deals in other territories currently under discussion, according to the distributor.

Little Bird is produced by Rezolution Pictures, which brought the concept to Podemski in 2016 to develop, and Original Pictures, with Fremantle handling global sales. It is co-written by Zoe Hopkins, and directed by Hopkins and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.

The series, which premiered in Canada on May 26, has picked up several accolades, including Representation of Race and Ethnicity – Scripted at MIPCOM’s Diversify TV Awards, the audience award at the 2023 Series Mania festival, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series for Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and the directing team of the episode “Love is all Around” at the DGC Awards.

Little Bird centres on an Indigenous woman (played by Darla Contois) who is removed from her childhood home on a Saskatchewan reserve during the Sixties Scoop and adopted into a Montreal Jewish family. The series follows her quest to find her birth family.

The series had one of the top five Canadian scripted series debuts in Crave history for first week streams season average, according to Bell Media, which cited Adobe Analytics as the source. It was the most-watched show on APTN lumi when it premiered in May. “And since its main network premiere this fall, Little Bird has been in APTN’s top three most-watched programs week by week,” says Adam Garnet Jones, APTN’s director of TV content and special events, who lauded the series for its “masterful” storytelling.

The series made its U.S. debut in October, with the L.A. Times calling it a “powerful exploration of the ‘Sixties Scoop’ and Indigenous assimilation.”

Podemski says the production team wanted to take the “concept of a premium show to a very new place with every aspect” of the series. It benefited from the “large chunk” of financing via provincial incentives in Manitoba (where it was shot), the Fremantle advance, and the efforts of all the funding partners, says Todd – all of it adding up to an approximate budget of $21 million. The provincial incentives amounted to more than 25% of the budget, while Fremantle’s advance was a “significant commitment,” according to the producers.

When it came to the action on-screen, the team was just as considerate. There was a 10-day gap between shoots for each episode to ensure cast and crew had time to process the subject matter. These “kinds of stories are very hard to tell, harder to make, and harder to sell,” says Podemski, who is of Indigenous and Jewish descent.

Former Rezolution Pictures exec Christina Fon, who is now with Shaftesbury and is in development on a dramatic comedy for Crave with Podemski and her banner Redcloud Studios, was an executive producer on Little Bird. She says, as a Jewish woman and daughter of Holocaust survivors, it was personally important to be able put a spotlight on “this unknown truth and story” where the Indigenous and Jewish “cultures meet within the frameworks of genocide.”

Rezolutions Pictures also produced a companion documentary, Coming Home, directed by Cree/Ojibway filmmaker Erica Daniels, that dives deeper into the history of the Sixties Scoop, and the impact of the child welfare system on the series’ Indigenous creatives, crew and Sixties Scoop advisors. The doc was released day and date with the series finale on June 30.

“It was important to be able to go back to the community with your head held high because you were able to tell that story in the right way,” says Rezolution Pictures’ Ernest Webb, who also served as an executive producer on the show. The series has also opened conversations around the Sixties Scoop, which Podemski says was the intent.

Photo by Steve Ackerman.
This story originally appeared in Playback‘s Winter 2023 issue