APTN’s Future History, a fascinating 13 episode docuseries from actor-producer and director Jennifer Podemski is an anthology of achievement and creativity within the indigenous community in Canada. It begins its second season with hosts Sarain Fox and Kris Narghang as they meet artists, healers, storytellers, makers and dreamers that celebrate the rich indigenous contributions to our country past present and future. There is a 13-year old water activist and cultural warrior, a youth dance and music workshop, suicide prevention and intervention organizations and indigenous knowledge in, among other disciplines, cutting edge social science research, childbirth and prenatal care. Podemski, a well-known actor-producer dons the director’s mantle for the first time in many years, in order to bring her concept to robust life. I spoke with Jennifer in Toronto.
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You have an impressive resume of work as a producer and actor, but you’re also directing Future History.
It’s been a while since I directed. I don’t typically direct what I produce, but this is a very special project for me, and I wanted to nurture and creatively control it as much as possible, so I took on the role.
This is a huge and ambitious undertaking, what was it that put you on this path of essentially creating an indigenous history?
It’s an interesting story. I was brought on to a production company to create the idea, and over a year built the show centred around Kris and reclamation and archeology angles. I started to lose the passion for the idea and wanted just to follow the idea of Kris and his search for identity and structure. I took it on by myself and that was the moment I knew I was going to do this. I might fail and lose all our money, but it was worth trying. I took the idea and Kris and Sarain came on this journey exploring the polarity between their experiences as indigenous people. We didn’t cross the country but we explored communities and identity struggles in indigenous life, like reclamation and rematriation.
How great to be in charge of your own idea and the series execution.
It was a gamble, a risk, but I am really proud of the fact I was able to stand up for what I believe was the true show. And I could put aside what didn’t fit the narrative.
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What were your aims for Future History?
I think, no I know that in storytelling there’s always this constant search for deeper meaning, going deeper into the story, whatever it is. I could do twenty seasons, or do it for the rest of my life, and there would still be more stories. There is so much space to fill. There has been a void for so long and we are all storytellers doing this work today, all perspectives, and indigenous perspectives are filling the hole.
There are so many more indigenous films being made recently.
I’m so happy about. I’ve taken this show into non-indigenous environments and screened episodes and had discussions. The audiences really relate not only culturally but on a human level. I’m so happy it is getting this response. There is nothing more powerful than telling a story that acts as a bridge between divided communities.
There are 39 “mobilisers” highlighted in the second season series. How did you choose them?
Definitely, it was a long process. My sister Tamara is our lead researcher and writer and she’s there in the early stages. We were looking for stories that resonate with the structure of the show. The first element is Kris going back into the past, discovering his ancient knowledge and pre-contact history of people places and systems. Sarain covers the present, what is meaningful now, sustainability and reclamation and they both host the future segments with a slant towards technology, science, anything future-focused. We really try to find great people, and it’s not that difficult. The difficulty is shooting schedules because the people we profile are so busy. Sometimes it’s near impossible, but we have an incredible team.
Reawaken, Rematriate, Rebuild, Reimagine, Reframe, Revitalize, Reclaim, Recover Redefine, Renew, Restore, Replenish and Paradigm Shift. These titles for the second season episodes are very strong, and active, more assertive than season one.
I actually wanted season two titled by chapter numbers. I felt it was more like a story, an evolving story of chapters. The network didn’t want us to do that, so I meditated on it for a day and realized the only way I could create active titles was to reflect the work being done in the community. Actions, verbs that felt like they belonged. I found that some of the best work comes out of being told no and doing something else.
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You and the hosts have said that season two changed everything and made the work more personal.
What happened is that after season one it took us a while to recover from it, to process all the learning and triggers and things that were brought up emotionally, and spiritually through the process. For season two we went in with a new sense of purpose and both the hosts had done a lot of growing and anchoring into a new narrative in their own lives. Kris in the first season had the end of a marriage and certain things about himself and secrets that were hidden from him. He got to sit with his mother in a room and understand who he is.
Sarain was dealing with health issues and really trying to harness the experience of telling these stories as a way of her own healing. I had some health challenges and I left the show for the last few days and people mobilized and they took it on and held to a level that made me happy. I’ve had a long journey starting with Lyme Disease but I’m doing a lot better now than I have been in six years. The big part for me was learning to let go and trust. It was huge.
Where does making this series fall in your career highlight reel?
Definitely at the top. There are so many life chapters in 46 years, I can look back and say I opened my first production company 21 years ago and in that time period there are some major career highlights. Acting seems part of an old self, but I had career highlights – Moccasin Flats, Empire of Dirt and this are my big accomplishments outside my two children.
Are you selling the series abroad? I think there would be huge interest.
We have a team, working to take this to the global market, nothing yet but we’re hopeful.
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI