Reimagining Indigenous perspectives on the big screen
- Campbell Stevenson | October 24, 2023
Jennifer Podemski, a prominent actress and producer with a career spanning more than 30 years in film and television shared her experiences, challenges and triumphs, as an Indigenous woman in the entertainment industry with a Regina audience.
Her Sept. 19 appearance at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum marked the third season of the SGI Solstice Speaker Series, which brings Indigenous leaders, artists and icons together for a night to share stories and to promote Reconciliation.
Podemski, a member of the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation said she comes from a diverse background, with Anishinaabe and Cree heritage on her mother's side, and Jewish heritage on her father's side.
She shared the difficulties she faced both in reconciling her identity and the systemic issues she encountered in the film industry.
“It’s not easy work,” she said. “Instagram makes it look fun, the media makes it look fun, but it actually has been one of the greatest heartbreaks of my life, to work in storytelling.”
However, Podemski has no regrets.
“I really liked being an actor, but I was being called very intentionally to wake up, to the proliferation of the erasure of Indigenous realities and perspectives, in cinema, on screen and the media,” she said.
Podemski highlighted the film and television industry's tendency to perpetuate stereotypes and portray Indigenous people in negative ways.
“We have been victimized, villainized, and (had) violence committed against us or we are the perpetrators of violence, through the lens of people who are not Indigenous, “ she said.
This realization pushed her to take on a more significant role in changing the narrative and representation of Indigenous peoples in media, and began shifting her focus to advocacy.
“This work is healing, this work is medicine,” said Podemski. “This work, that I’ve been called to do won’t be easy, but will last forever. And it will be a shift that I so badly wanted to see.”
In 1999, Podemski embarked on her journey to create her own television series but had no idea on how to start.
Potential arose when she had the opportunity to work with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), where she co-founded Big Soul Productions.
However, despite producing a wide-range of successful documentaries, television series and short films, she decided to leave the company due to an unhealthy and ‘abusive’ partnership with non-Indigenous collaborators.
“Up until very recently, I was not even able to work by myself,” said Podemski. “I was always sort of forced to partner with non-Indigenous partners, and that ends up leaving room for a lot of harm…I was not seen as capable enough to make my own show.”
So, she decided to form her own production company − Redcloud Studios.
With the freedom to advocate for Indigenous people through television, she co-created the critically acclaimed television series Little Bird.
This new project depicts the story of a 60’s scoop survivor, set in Saskatchewan.
Little Bird was not an easy story to tell.
“It’s work of truth, and truth is very hard to face,” she said. “It is work, especially when it comes to Indigenous stories and lived experiences and looking at some of things that we have reckoned with. It can be very painful.”
However, Podemski remains committed to telling those hard stories.
Following her presentation, she was greeted by family and community members from Muscowpetung.
She says no matter where her career takes her, Saskatchewan, will forever welcome her with open arms.
“So many of us are fractured by the impact of colonialism, and colonial violence that has left us scattered all over the place,” said Podemski. “Yet, I feel so much a part of something, much bigger than myself when I come here.”
Little Bird is to air on APTN Oct 12 and is still available on Crave.