July 25th, 2024

‘Little Bird’ creator, ‘BlackBerry’ director on topping Canadian Screen Award noms

By Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press on March 6, 2024.

Actors Darla Contois (left) and Lisa Edelstein from the Crave and APTN series "Little Bird" are shown in a handout photo. Crave original series "Little Bird" dominates this year's Canadian Screen Award nominations with 19 nods, while Matt Johnson's "BlackBerry" takes the lead in the film category with 17. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-APTN, CRAVE, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Even after 35 years in the business, Toronto showrunner and actress Jennifer Podemski says she was “totally beside herself” to see her series “Little Bird” lead the Canadian Screen Awards nominations.

Her Crave/APTN series about an Indigenous woman’s search for her birth family received 19 nods from the Academy of CanadianCinema and Television on Wednesday.

“I’ve gone to a couple decades of awards shows where there really was no Indigenous representation, if not a few decades,” said Podemski, whose acting credits include FX’s “Reservation Dogs” and who produced the 2013 film “Empire of Dirt,” which she also starred in.

“It feels like the impact of this is already going to be felt because it will create space for others, and it will probably inspire others to stay the course.”

Podemski said she’s overwhelmed to see an Indigenous-led show dominate the nominations.

“After all the things I’ve heard in my career about how hard it is to tell these stories and get them on screen, it just makes it worthwhile.”

Centred on a ’60s Scoop survivor fostered into a Jewish family in Montreal, the six-part series co-created by Podemski and Hannah Moscovitch features a largely Indigenous cast and creative team.

“Little Bird” received nods for best drama series, best drama performance for stars Darla Contois and Ellyn Jade, and best drama direction for Zoe Leigh Hopkins and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, among other nominations.

It’s up against CBC’s “Essex County” and “Plan B,” Hollywood Suite’s “Slasher: Ripper” and CTV’s “Transplant” for best drama series.

Podemski, who is of mixed Anishinaabe and Jewish descent, said “Little Bird” feels like “a very personal story,” especially because her mother Joanna S. Anaquod and aunt Sharon Anaquod both worked on the series and received nominations for best visual research.

“Seeing their names on that category is really emotional to me because my community helped me make this,” she said.

Podemski said creating “Little Bird,” which was shot during the pandemic amid “an apocalyptic winter in Manitoba,” was the most difficult thing she’s ever experienced.

“It feels like we got to the other side of a very difficult journey, and not just the journey of making this, but the journey of what so many people have gone through in their life, reckoning with the impacts of being stolen from your community and from your identity,” she said.

“BlackBerry,” helmed by Toronto director Matt Johnson, leads the film categories with 17 nods – including for best picture and achievement in direction – becoming the most nominated movie in the history of the 11-year-old Canadian Screen Awards, according to organizers.

Johnson said he’s happy for that distinction only because it increases his “political power” to make changes within Canadian showbusiness, including removing barriers for filmmakers making their first features.

“I’ve been openly anxious about being brought to the centre of the Canadian film industry, mostly because I’m much more comfortable being an outsider,” he said.

“But as long as it allows me to put further influence on the system to make it more accessible to young people, I think it’s nothing but good. I’m old enough now where I feel like any kind of accolades that I get publicly are just more fuel for these big changes that I think are deeply necessary.”

Johnson said that in the past, he and “BlackBerry” producer Matthew Miller, whom he’s worked with since his 2013 directorial debut “The Dirties,” applied to Telefilm and the CBC to fund multiple projects but never got anywhere because “it was difficult for those institutions to see at that time how we would fit the Canadian model.”

Johnson said they convinced both Telefilm and the CBC to fund “BlackBerry” because it “was about something so big and Canadian that they got behind it.”

“We’ve been on this nearly 20-year journey from the fringes of this industry to somehow getting all this acclaim. It’s quite surreal for us,” Miller added.

Set in 1990s Waterloo, Ont., their film follows the dramatic rise and fall of the BlackBerry mobile device and its inventors. Jay Baruchel has been nominated for best performance in a comedy leading role for his turn as company co-founder Mike Lazaridis, while Glenn Howerton, who plays co-CEO Jim Balsillie, and Johnson, who plays co-founder Doug Fregin, are both up for best supporting role in a comedy.

“BlackBerry” is competing with “Solo,” “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person,” “Infinity Pool,” “Red Rooms (Les chambres rouges)” and “Richelieu” for best motion picture.

Toronto-born “Infinity Pool” director Brandon Cronenberg said he’s excited to see his “very weird” sci-fi horror film – about a couple whose vacation on an isolated island resort turns into a holiday from hell – get nominated.

“It’s definitely strange, but then again, the history of Canadian film is very weird. If you look at how much of our industry was built on the tax-shelter films of the ’80s, Canadian film comes from, a very strange, outsider place,” he said.

He’s happy to see several out-of-the-box films get nominated this year.

“If there’s something that we do well in Canada, it’s unconventional filmmaking. I think it’s good for a big awards show like the CSAs to be recognizing a wide range of films like this.”

In the film categories, Quebec director and screenwriter Ariane Louis-Seize’s “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person” secured 12 nominations, while Cronenberg’s “Infinity Pool” followed with 11.

Louis-Seize’s French-language dramedy – about a sensitive teenage vampire who forms a bond with a depressed boy – is up for achievement in direction and best original screenplay. The best film director race pits Johnson, Louis-Seize and Cronenberg against Henri Pardo for “Kanaval,” Pascal Plante for “Red Rooms (Les chambres rouges)” and Sophie Dupuis for “Solo.”

In the TV category, other leading nominees include the final seasons of CBC comedies “Sort Of” and “Workin’ Moms,” boasting 18 and 12 nods, respectively.

“Sort Of,” a dramedy about a gender-fluid Pakistani Canadian millennial balancing various identities, is up for best direction and best writing in a comedy. The show is up against Crave’s “Bria Mack Gets A Life” and “Letterkenny,” CBC’s “Son of a Critch” and “Workin’ Moms,” and CTV’s “Shelved” for best comedy series.

“The Drop,” Narcity’s first fully scripted YouTube show, and the CBC Gem series “How to Fail as a Popstar,” based on Vivek Shraya’s hit play and subsequent book, lead digital media nominations with five each.

The 156 trophies celebrating the best in Canadian film, television and digital media will be handed out in a series of award shows leading up to a gala hosted by comedian Mae Martin on May 31, which will air on CBC and CBC Gem a few hours later.

It’s the second consecutive year the celebration won’t be broadcast live.

Traditionally, the Screen Awards have been a star-studded live event in front of an audience. Tammy Frick, the CEO of the Academy, said pre-taping allows the gala to highlight more “industry-heavy” elements that might overwhelm a TV audience.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024.

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