Winnipeg-born producer ‘a fierce warrior’

From modest beginnings in St. James, Tara Woodbury may have become one of the most important producers working in the Canadian entertainment business.

Before this week, Woodbury, 38, might have won that title on the strength of the CTV series Transplant, which in 2020 became the most-watched Canadian series among total viewers, with an average audience of 1.4 million. (The series about a Syrian refugee doctor given an opportunity to work in a Toronto hospital was deemed the biggest new Canadian drama since 2015.) Now in post-production on the second season, the series was also a hit stateside (where it airs on NBC), becoming the No. 1 drama after its debut in September of last year.

Woodbury, an executive producer for Sphere Media, had a hand in the show’s creation alongside creator showrunner Joseph Kay, another Winnipeg-to-Toronto transplant.

On Friday, she should cement her reputation in the realm of feature film. Woodbury is one of the producers of Night Raiders, Danis Goulet’s debut feature film set in a future dystopia where a desperate mother (played by filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) goes to extraordinary lengths to be reunited with her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart), stolen by the government to be indoctrinated in a state-run academy.

It is a story based on historic precedent, when the Canadian government took Indigenous children from their homes to attend residential schools, where they could be stripped of their culture.

Just as Transplant layers a social conscience onto an existing popular genre, so does Night Raiders. And no, it’s not a coincidence.

Chris Young / The Canadian Press Files

Night Raiders director Danis Goulet (centre) stands with producers Tara Woodbury (left) and Paul Barkin on the TIFF red carpet.

“I like working for people who have something to say and have a strong point of view and on both of those projects, that was the case,” Woodbury says. “The producer’s job is to support the storyteller and give them the tools they need to do their best work.”

Night Raiders required extra effort since Woodbury was under an obligation to stay at work for Sphere Media. She got her opportunity when she got pregnant with her second child with partner Spencer Maybee.

“I thought: OK, great, I’ll do this on my mat leave,” she says. “So that’s what I did.

“I was two days post-delivery when I found out we got Telefilm funding. From there we just went,” she says. “I hired a nanny who worked with me and I just brought the baby everywhere. I was breastfeeding in the back of transport vans.”

Woodbury, a graduate of the comunications program at the University of Winnipeg, had been nurturing the project — which includes Taika Waititi (Things We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) as an executive producer — since 2013, when she worked with Goulet as a story editor on the director’s short film Wakening.

The Cree/Métis filmmaker Goulet, who is from Saskatchewan, clicked with Woodbury.

“I’m so grateful that I found Tara because she’s a Winnipeg girl and she’s got that Prairie vibe,” Goulet says.

Supplied</p><p>Tara Woodbury, producer of Night Raiders.</p>


Tara Woodbury, producer of Night Raiders.

“When I started to develop Night Raiders, she came on board and has been with me through it since the very beginning,” Goulet says. “Tara is a brilliant, creative producer. She knows exactly when to give space and exactly when to push. She knows how to shepherd a project and not put it out too soon before it’s ready.

“She just has incredible instincts and she’s also driven deeply by values,” Goulet says, adding that the industry is often not friendly to the spirit in which she, as an Indigenous filmmaker, wants to create her work, but that Woodbury wanted to protect that spirit.

“She’s like a fierce warrior creating a wall from the outside, protecting the creative vision and also the values that we set out to do together.

“She’s now like a sister. We’ve been through everything together, and as an Indigenous person it can be really challenging to find partners who you trust, because the industry has really perpetuated about 100 years of misrepresentation of our people on the screen.”

For her part, Woodbury says that as a Winnipegger, it took her a long time to realize how many gaps she had in her knowledge of Indigenous culture and history.

“I’m so glad this film can help shed some light on that, while still being super-fun, entertaining viewing,” she says. “Danis and I really wanted to make a film that our family and friends could enjoy. That’s at the heart of it.

“Yes, there’s lots of important messages in the film and we truly believe we put a lot of work into the subject matter. But ultimately we wanted something people from our own homes and communities could really enjoy watching.”

Night Raiders opens in Winnipeg theatres Friday.

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

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