Montreal-based Rezolution Pictures, behind Sundance winner “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” and Winnipeg-based OP Little Bird have partnered with Fremantle International on Jennifer Podemski and Hannah Moscovitch’s original drama series “Little Bird,” which is set to premiere on Crave and APTN in Canada.
The series, which stars Darla Contois and Lisa Edelstein (“House, M.D.”), follows the life of Bezhig Little Bird, a victim of the Sixties Scoop in Saskatchewan wherein First Nations children were abducted and placed in foster homes before being put up for adoption by white families.
Told in parallel timelines, “Little Bird” quickly contrasts Bezhig’s childhood with her engagement party – only this time as Esther Rosenblum, a woman in her 20s on the cusp of life, and suddenly wracked with repressed memories. As a showrunner, Podemski (“The Rez,” “Empire of Dirt”), who is herself both Indigenous and Jewish, is perfectly positioned to give authenticity and meaning to the matter. She has partnered with head writer Moscovitch, a renowned playwright, to pen the six-part one-hour limited series.
As Rosenblum (Contois) ventures into the Canadian prairies, she encounters the truth and atrocity of her past, one she must face with eyes wide open.
“It’s so easy to sweep the past under the rug if it’s an unpleasant memory. And it’s so important to not do that, and to lift up a story and tell it to an audience so you can create a community of awareness that is invested emotionally in not repeating these mistakes,” says Dante Di Loreto, Fremantle’s North American president of scripted entertainment.
Fremantle, who will showcase “Little Bird” to global buyers on March 3 at a London Screenings event, plays a pivotal role in series such as “Little Bird.” Di Loreto extrapolated, saying: “It’s our job to work with great artists, give them the resources they need and get out of the way. And then, hopefully, make sure their story is told in as many countries as possible.”
“It’s a powerful and very relevant story on an important topic which needs to be told and has a true-crime element,” says Jens Richter, CEO of Fremantle International, its global sales arm. “But it’s about family, a young woman’s journey to find her own roots. And it portrays what really happened, not only in Canada but also in the U.S., Australia and many places around the world.”
He adds: “It’s important for audiences to feel involved in the brightness and darkness of the characters extraordinary journey, to see the full picture.” says Richter. “Showing the affection and calm of feeling at home after a harrowing experience, to estrangement, and the emotionally heavy journey of trying to make sense of the world around her.”
“Little Bird” forms part of Fremantle’s drive into English-language series production in the U.K., Australia and Canada. “We had a great slate of shows for 2022 and for 2023 will push ever further by introducing 10 new English language drama series to the market such as ‘C*A*U*G*H*T,’ ‘Platform 7’ “and ‘’Sullivan’s Crossing,’” Richter notes.
“Little Bird” employs powerful casting, including additional performances from Ellyn Jade, Joshua Odjick, Michelle Thrush and Eric Schweig. As well, the creative team boasts powerhouse input from Emmy-nominated “Game of Thrones” director Jeremy Podeswa and “Little Bird’s” own directors Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Zoe Hopkins.
Variety spoke with Podemski and Moscovitch ahead of the series premiere on Crave and APTN.
How did this project come to be? What led you to tell this story?
Jennifer Podemski: This project originally started with Rezolution Pictures out of Montreal. They brought me a short, two-sentence pitch, which we then turned into a couple of pages and began the search for a partner, a writer who could work with me to build it. And that was Hannah. Christina Fon at Rezolution, she originally brought it to me – because I’m Jewish on my dad’s side and Indigenous (Anishinaabe) on my mom’s side – so she was like: “This is meant to be told by you.”
Hannah Moscovitch: I knew Jen’s work and admired it so much. And I got this two-pager and I had one of those experiences where your heart starts to pound as you’re reading something because you connect to it so completely. My background is Jewish and I come from a culture where there’s a strong feeling that if there’s been a genocide, it’s important that it’s spoken about. And this was a genocide which had occurred in Canada. And I thought: Why don’t I know this? Why don’t other Canadians know about this? How can Indigenous communities heal from this huge a trauma or be at all okay without this being broadly talked about? How can non-Indigenous Canadians understand Indigenous communities at all without knowing about this? And, on top of that of course, I was drawn to writing about the Jewish community and writing about it in such a complex way. And there is nothing more primal or more universal than wanting to be with your mother, your father, your brothers and sisters and family, and your own people, and also wanting to know who you are, and where you come from, and wanting to belong, so I knew the story would mean a lot to anyone who watched it.
The series is bisected into two simultaneous storylines which happen 18 years apart. Did that present any unique difficulties or tools during writing and filming?
Moscovitch: It spoke to the meaning we were trying to communicate: the cause and effect of the policy and the genocide. You would see what it looks like when children are abducted by the Canadian Child Family Services and the RCMP. And then you would see what it looks like later in their lives, and the net cost of these forcible apprehensions on a particular family. Through this family you would see the broader atrocity that had occurred. By having the stories in tandem we got to telescope time and show that these moments that occurred when Esther was a child changed the whole course of her life. That this government atrocity echoed down the generation and it massively impacted this family. So it always felt good to be going cause/effect, cause/effect and winding those time periods together.
In “Little Bird,” Bezhig is driven by her newly emerging repressed memories. How did you approach that from a narrative and visual perspective?
Podemski: We looked at all the various ways in which trauma presents itself. Especially when it has been repressed for many years . We worked with our two story advisors, Nakuset and Raven Sinclair, who supported us in shaping the way in which our lead character, Esther, experienced PTSD through intrusive memory. We were able to express this authentically through the use of acoustic and visual layers which I think played very authentically throughout the story.
I wonder how many narratives there have been about the Sixties Scoop told from the point of view of the victims. Is this a pioneering series, as seen from a point of view of a narrative thought and felt by the victims, and with international reach?
Podemski: Yeah, this is the first that we know of. These stories are common in the US, Australia and New Zealand but I’m not familiar with anything that has been indigenous-led and indigenous-told in terms of perspective. I think it’s really remarkable in that way because it truly is the first of its kind. In Canada we had a documentary about the Sixties Scoop called “Birth of a Family” by director Tasha Hubbard but I’ve not been exposed to anything else. I think we explored all of the ways in which we could be authentic to the collective experience. What it came down to is how does this speak to the world? And I think we did a good job of it and not much was compromised.
“Little Bird” is a co-production from Bell Media’s Crave and APTN, produced by Rezolution Pictures and OP Little Bird with the participation of the Canada Media Fund (CMF), Manitoba Film and Music, the Rogers Cable Network Fund, the Bell Fund and the COGECO Independent Production Fund. Additional training funding provided by Bell Media, the Indigenous Screen Office, REEL Canada and the Director’s Guild of Canada. Fremantle International is the distributor for the series.
Led by an Indigenous creative team, “Little Bird” is developed by showrunner Jennifer Podemski and Rezolution Pictures, and created by Podemski and head writer Hannah Moscovitch. The series is executive produced by Christina Fon, Ernest Webb, Catherine Bainbridge, Linda Ludwick (Rezolution Pictures), Kim Todd, Nicholas Hirst (Original Pictures), Jeremy Podeswa, Jennifer Podemski, and Hannah Moscovitch, along with Christian Vesper and Dante Di Loreto (Fremantle). Producers are Tanya Brunel and Jessica Dunn (OP Little Bird), Claire MacKinnon and Philippe Chabot (Rezolution Pictures) and Lori Lozinski and Ellen Rutter.