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By Anne Brodie

One of Canada’s busiest film artists is producer, director, writer, cinematographer, and actor Jennifer Podemski. Her work nurturing indigenous Canadian stories for most of her life, across the film disciplines in more than sixty projects is heartfelt and impressive. Podemslki will receive the August Schellenberg Award at this year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, starting today in Toronto. What She Said’ Anne Brodie spoke with Podemski about her career, her relationship with the late Schellenberg, growing older and her surprising response to the accolade.

Jennifer congratulations on winning the August Schellenberg Award. I’m so happy for you and not in the least surprised. You have always worked to further indigenous stories arts and culture. I really feel incredibly honoured to be celebrated and acknowledged, I think when working in this stage where I do my best to uplift stories and experiences from my own community, in the reality of my family and extended community. It becomes a political act, a social justice act, it’s personal, a legacy, and to be reminded that it’s being acknowledged by leaders in the arts community is great. Tell me about Schellenberg’s contributions to the arts and culture and what he accomplished for indigenous artists. I was never privileged to work with Augie one-on-one but I have spent many many times with him alone in deep conversations. One of the things he did very well was to lead with compassion and love wherever he went; he created spaces that were safe, collaborative, and inclusive, and the idea of indigenous values at the center of the work. He was such a kind person and inclusive person and I never heard him ever say anything bad about anybody. It’s the legacy he left behind and a dream for the future. August really upheld the idea we could come together for our identities and communities within the indigenous reality and contribute to the greater narrative of where we are going with kindness and compassion. I strive to acknowledge that.

August Schellenberg 1936 – 2013

You had a personal connection to Schellenberg and his family. What did he represent to you? I would say I didn’t have many opportunities but when we had the opportunity to be close at events and celebrations and on the outskirts of work crossing paths, I got to know his family, but I don’t consider that I knew the impact he has as a person or father. But the time I did have with him was remarkably profound and uplifted me always. Back then he was one of the few indigenous actors you always saw in the mainstream, it was so incredible, so rare. He was a beautiful man inside and out. Was he aware of your activism? Yes, at the time, in my early career, I was really striving and from him, I gathered his support and he was a cheerleader.

Let’s look at your achievements. The Future History series is just one example of your art as a storytelling tool to let the world know about Canadian First Nations. Do you feel pride in what you’ve done? What I usually find myself being a product of is teamwork. Nothing is done by one person. I have led projects and have been at the helm of projects like Future History, Little Bird, and Unsettled for over twenty years, I think I’m not proud of myself at all. I am proud of the team for carrying the enormous weight; to be able to bear that weight to completion it takes a whole community. You can celebrate your accomplishments! Yes, absolutely. There are moments when you think this is hard, emotionally, and physically, and as you get older your values and priorities shift and the work continues to be hard. I celebrate by acknowledging that I’ve stayed the course and accomplished things I only dreamed of when I started. It feels rewarding but also the teamwork cannot go unnoticed. None of this is possible without the working family, and the people on your team. I’m happy to be celebrated as the person at the front, who persevered and uplifted minorities, but I cannot take credit for making it happen. There’s a photo of you online with the caption “How will Jennifer shape Canada’s next 150 years?” Any plans? I was reminded of the fifty posts before fifty I wanted to do before my fiftieth birthday ideas like menopause and peri-menopause. Our bodies, minds, and values are changing, each a reflection of work, and it’s who we are. I’ve taken turning fifty seriously and the opportunities ahead. I am moving towards collaborative work, community, narratives about native sovereignty, and building bridges between different communities. That means something to me. There is too much hate, terror and grieving in the world’s communities and what we need now is work that is centred around community building.

Taking place from October 17-22, 2023 (Toronto) and October 23-29, 2023 (online), early bird ticket packages for this year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival are on sale now.



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