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TIFF 15 Interview: Jennifer Podemski talks FIRE SONG


Photo credit: Nadya Kwandibens

Suicide. Searching for an identity. Sexuality. Struggle. All these can be seen in Fire Song directed by Adam Garnet Jones where you can see how Shane, a gay Anishnabe teenager in Northern Ontario is struggles to support his family in the aftermath of his sister`s suicide. Jennifer Podemski plays his mother, Jackie who gladly agrees for an interview with MOVIEMOVESME.COM to talk about her character, the relationship with Shane and the importance of seeing this truly profound film.

MOVIEMOVESME: How would you introduce Jackie, the character you play in Fire Song?

Jennifer Podemski: She’s a mother of a recently deceased girl and a son who is struggling with his sexual identity. She’s trying to, I guess, keep her head above the water. In this part of the film she’s very much under the care of her son. She’s not able to do very much on her own. She’s like one of the things in Shane’s life that’s feeling him.

MOVIEMOVESME: When the movie begins we find Jackie heartbroken, even refusing to go out to pay her last tributes to her daughter. There is a moment where she’s trying to distance herself from Shane, who’s trying to do his best. So can you talk about the psychological situation of Jackie at that point in time?

Jennifer Podemski: The way I interpreted and worked with Adam, the director on it was that she falls into this very deep despair because of her own guilt. Not the guilt of being a bad mother but her guilt for not knowing as a mother that her daughter was in trouble. Being a parent myself, you sort of recognize when your child has the ability and the strength and the confidence to carry on. So I think that’s how she feels about her son. She lives in her despair and sadness but trusts he’s going to be okay. He doesn’t need her as much as her daughter needed her.

MOVIEMOVESME: We see Shane trying to support his family financially while trying to distance himself from it. Do you think it’s because he thinks his family may not welcome the truth about his sexual identity?

Jennifer Podemski: I think he doesn’t want to burden his mother with it. I think he wants to be the accomplished academic, the survivor in the family, the one who gets out. He wants to be able to give back to his mother and make her proud but what seems to get in the way is his struggle with his sexual identity and he doesn’t want to burden his mother with it. So that’s why she’s still in the dark. But I’m pretty sure that how Adam intended it was that the last person on earth who would judge him would be his mother. They even say in the film an elder told her that he’d be tooth bearded, so I think she always knew who he was and was just waiting for it to happen.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is your opinion on the second suicide in the film and its relation to the first, if it indeed had any?

Jennifer Podemski: Well, there are a couple of interesting connections. The first one is typical, and I know mostly about the aboriginal community, that suicides happened in groups. It is very common to hear that when a young person takes their life it is followed by several others. This typically happens in clusters. The overarching scene that Adam was utilizing to tell the story that there’s a ripple effect. For Jackie’s daughter I don’t think there was anything deeply, deeply wrong. It’s is very possible that it is the result of living in a very small modern community where there’s a lot of drugs and alcohol issues facing the community that are direct result of residential schools. So the ripple effect on residential schools affect really intensely within smaller communities where there’s a lack of resources. So I think with that the palette that the filmmaker was trying to paint, so it’s almost less important of why the first person committed suicide and more important to recognize that suicide itself is a very big issue in the aboriginal community and is usually in clusters.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is your opinion about the story and the way Adam brought it to the screen?

Jennifer Podemski: I think he told it very well, it’s very subtle and at its core is really a love story. All of the other things are just obstacles that are in his way and reality, the unfortunately reality that are facing our young people and community everywhere. But really, at its heart it’s a love story. So in many ways, I think he struck a very good balance between telling a story that has very dark and relatable themes like suicide and abuse and incest but balanced so nicely with a very gentle homosexual love story which is rarely seen in movies.

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