Toronto showrunner is behind this powerful new Indigenous-led series

This month, showrunner and producer Jennifer Podemski’s groundbreaking new series Little Bird is set to premiere on Crave. The actor, producer, director and writer is telling a story that has rarely received attention from Canada’s film and TV industry — the “Sixties Scoop,” which refers to the removal of thousands of Indigenous children out of their homes and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous families in the ’60s in North America.

“Everything I’ve done as a producer has intersected with historical trauma and colonial violence,” says Podemski, who also produced the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s (APTN) Moccasin Flats and Future History. “There is also a lot of joy, love, rich culture and teaching, but there are so many urgent stories that need to be told as a way to move forward and heal.”

Podemski’s professional acting career began in high school — at Claude Watson School for the Arts, casting directors visited to audition people to be extras in movies, landing her a background role in Prom Night 3. “I was hooked,” she says. 

Jennifer Podemski

With over 30 years of experience in this industry, she’s seen it grow — but she’s also seen its shortcomings. “It was very clear to me that there was a big problem when it came to Indigenous stories and representation on TV,” she says. By the time she was 25, she said she had to do something about it. So she opened her own production company, Redcloud Studios Inc. 

Now, with Little Bird, the series boasts an Indigenous cast and two Indigenous directors — but, Podemski notes, not a majority Indigenous crew, despite the showrunner implementing a training program on set for entry level Indigenous crew. “That’s the sad reality: there is a lot of training but not enough meaningful employment,” she says. 

Podemski credits APTN for “legitimizing” Indigenous producers and creators such as herself, but says we’re still far behind when it comes to representation on screen and behind the camera. “Access to opportunity is the biggest barrier, not lack of experienced talent,” she says. 

So once again, Podemski took matters into her own hands — she launched The Shine Network in 2020 to empower Indigenous women in film and TV. 

She’s doing just that with Little Bird, which stars Cree-Saulteaux actor Darla Contois. Podemski hopes the series, which premieres on May 26, creates some awareness. “I hope it inspires audiences to see in themselves their own potential to heal and reconcile with their past no matter what community they are from.”

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO