By Sam Laskaris
TORONTO,ONT-Jennifer Podemski has been selected as this year’s recipient of the August Schellenberg Award of Excellence.
The award, which is more commonly referred to as the Augie, was presented to Podemski at a ceremony in Toronto which is part of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.
The Augie is annually presented to an Indigenous actor from North America based on the longevity and impact of their career.
Also taken into consideration is one’s professionalism and involvement in mentorship and community work.
The award is named after Indigenous actor August Schellenberg, who died in 2013 at the age of 77. Schellenberg, who was born in Montreal, had Mohawk ancestry.
Schellenberg’s widow Joan Karasevich launched the Augie after his death. The first recipient was Tantoo Cardinal in 2015.
Podemski, who is 50, is a member of Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan. But she now lives in Barrie, Ont.
Besides being an actor, Podemski is also a writer, producer and director. Though she never worked with Schellenberg, she had numerous conversations with him that helped impact her career.
“I do remember a time in my 20s, perhaps it was at a festival and I was struggling,” Podemski said. “And he said something to the effect to not take the industry so seriously, to stay on the path and to stay focused.”
Podemski had started her acting career at age 17. He breakout role came when she played Sadie in the film Dance Me Outside.
She went on to earn Canadian Screen Awards for best supporting actress and best film.
Podemski’s career highlights included launching Big Soul Productions, which was Canada’s first Indigenous owned and operated film/TV production and post-production company.
She also launched the Shine Network, which is a digital exhibition platform and talent incubator for women content creators who are Indigenous.
Podemski still credits Schellenberg for where she is today.
“I had many opportunities to spend valuable time and meaningful time with him,” she said. “He was very wise and had a very open heart.”
Podemski is also understandably thrilled she is this year’s Augie recipient.
“I feel so beside myself to be acknowledged in a space centred around Indigenous voices because that is where I have spent the entirety of my career,” she said.
Podemski plans to remain in the industry for a while longer.
“This is a gentle reminder that I am on the right path,” she added of her Augie award.
Jani Lauzon, a Metis writer/actor/director who is a member of the award selection committee, believes Podemski is a deserving recipient.
“Following in the footsteps of August Schellenberg, Jennifer Podemski is a trailblazer,” Lauzon said. “She strives for excellence in her work as an actor, director and producer with a focus on lifting the lives and dignity of Indigenous people. Her work as an actor is both powerful and vulnerable while keeping her focus firmly rooted in community.”
This year’s imagineNATIVE festival began on Tuesday (Oct. 17) and continues until Oct. 22 with its in-person programming.
The festival will then have an online format, which runs Oct. 23 through Oct. 29.