‘Fancy Dance’ is coming to AppleTV+, and Director Erica Tremblay keeps getting accolades

‘Fancy Dance,’ starring Lily Gladstone, is slotted to hit Apple TV+, and Erica Tremblay is all about it.

Erica Tremblay, a Seneca-Cayuga writer and director, keeps getting great news. Her latest film, Fancy Dance, starring the Oscar-nominated actress Lily Gladstone, is scheduled to hit Apple TV+ this year. 

In addition, Tremblay also just received the inaugural Jaya Award at the 14th Annual Athena Film Festival at Barnard College in New York, along with a $10,000 grant. She was among eight notable filmmakers selected for the 2024 Momentum Fellowship by the Sundance Institute. The fellowship is specifically for creators “working in fiction or nonfiction who have recently achieved a noteworthy accomplishment.”

See related story: Sundance Announces 2024 Momentum Fellows

2024 Momentum Fellow, Erica Tremblay (Courtesy image)

In February 2024, Apple TV+ announced they had landed the global rights to Fancy Dance after its lauded reception at Sundance in 2023. 

A description of the film is as follows:

Since her sister’s disappearance, Jax (Gladstone) has cared for her niece, Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson), by scraping by on the Seneca-Cayuga reservation in Oklahoma. Every spare minute goes into finding her missing sister while also helping Roki prepare for an upcoming powwow. At the risk of losing custody to Jax’s father, Frank (Shea Whigham), the pair hit the road and scour the backcountry to track down Roki’s mother in time for the powwow. What begins as a search gradually turns into a far deeper investigation into the complexities and contradictions of Indigenous women moving through a colonized world at the mercy of a failed justice system. Gladstone stars alongside Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Whigham, Crystle Lightning and Audrey Wasilewski.

“‘Fancy Dance’ is an incredibly impressive debut feature from Erica Tremblay,” said Matt Dentler, head of features at Apple Original Films, in an email to Native Viewpoint. 

“A highly original piece of filmmaking, it showcases her true artistry and immediately signaled to us that she is a talent to watch. At Apple, we’re always searching for exceptional stories that entertain global audiences while also shining a light on our shared humanity, and this film has a richly compelling narrative at its heart that is simultaneously very specific to the experiences of the Indigenous community while also feeling universally relatable. And ever since we first witnessed what Lily Gladstone brought to the screen as Mollie Burkhart in Killers of the Flower Moon, we were struck by the magnitude of her gift and now, with her performance as Jax, she demonstrates once again what a beautifully versatile performer she is.” 

“We can’t wait for audiences to meet these brilliantly realized characters in this gorgeously crafted story of familial love.”

An interview with Erica Tremblay

Vincent Schilling: Congratulations on receiving the Jaya Award at the Athena Film Festival.

Erica Tremblay: I feel really great about it. As a filmmaker, at this point in my career, I look back at how I was able to get Fancy Dance and my short film put together. Truly, these fellowships and grants are so vital for independent filmmakers like myself, who might not have ready access to development funds or producers with budgets for this kind of work. It just means so much because you can have real resources to get started on a project or help with a project already underway. So, to be the first recipient is a true honor. So I’m very grateful.

Vincent Schilling: You’ve been pretty forthcoming about Indigenous inclusion. You contributed an article to the Hollywood Reporter about this. Especially in this case, considering Lily Gladstone is both in Fancy Dance and Killers of the Flower Moon. 

Erica Tremblay: It’s no shocking surprise that Hollywood as an institution has historically underrepresented Native Americans and many other groups. When we have been represented and included in films and television, our representation has often been so sordid.  

We’ve been relegated to either the savage portrayal of us or the stoic Indian, and the representation—specifically on reservations—has been so terrible. There’s so much poverty porn and focus on all the wrong things. Growing up in my community, you recognize the world that you’re living in and the oppressive systems and all of those things do exist. But you’re living in a community full of human beings who are living and laughing and loving and going through hard times.

It’s really been heartening to see that Hollywood is slowly opening the door with shows like Reservation Dogs or Dark Winds, which I also worked on. There’s Rutherford Falls and Marvel’s Echo. All of these are mentors and colleagues of mine who are also working on their own projects. We can celebrate those successes, yes, but the fact is that only now the door is beginning to open. It’s just such an indictment on this industry. 

Our film premiered to critical success. We were selling out film festival screenings, and we still weren’t being offered a pathway to distribution, in the same year that another film was being made by a non-Native person. It’s unfair to compare me to Martin Scorsese, because I’m gonna lose in every battle when it comes to that. But with just a fraction of that budget, we knew we could get our film to an audience. Miciana Alise, my co-writer, and I were just like, ‘We’re just gonna start saying out loud what’s happening to us in this process. We were so grateful that people listened and so grateful to Lily Gladstone and her enduring bravery for continuing to advocate for this film. We’re so thrilled that we’ve landed at the perfect home. We feel extremely supported and excited to be embarking on this next part of the journey with Apple.

Vincent Schilling: Fast forward to 2024, now you’ve been picked up by Apple. That must be exciting for you.

Erica Tremblay: It was wonderful. We’ve been having great conversations with distributors along the way over the past year. There just hadn’t been the action of actually, you know, getting across the finish line to a sale. 

Last year was a very fraught time in our industry. I have a lot of colleagues who also had films that struggled to sell. We were on strike, and there was a reckoning happening with these big streamers in the industry that were realigning. So yeah, it was a tough year to sell a film.

It’s always tough to sell a Native film. 

But I’m the type of person who is truly optimistic and continues to push in the hopes that there’s an opening somewhere. We knew we had a good film, we knew that we had incredible performances by Lily and Isabel (Deroy-Olson.) At the end of the day, I’m not going to look back. I’m so thrilled and excited. We have the perfect team now working for the film. The dream of getting the film out into the world and Native communities having access to the film will be upon us. That’s just the most exciting thing. It’s not often in this industry that you get to stop and pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Good job.’ I’m going to take this win and live in it and just be excited that we’ve achieved our ultimate goal with the film.

Vincent Schilling: How would you say the horizon is now for Indigenous filmmakers and actors and cast and crew on Indigenous productions? 

Erica Tremblay: I am an optimistic person, but I’m also a pragmatic person, and I recognize that there’s still so much more work that Hollywood needs to do. I think that Native filmmakers and Native storytellers across all media—just have to remain steadfast. We have to continue breaking these really old viewpoints. Hollywood has held on to these really racist viewpoints and believes that Native Americans can’t act, or they can’t write, or they can’t direct. We’ve historically seen Native Americans cast (and portrayed) by non-Native actors. Our stories have been told by non-Native directors and writers. 

I think that idea is slowly changing as we see the success of these Native-led projects that are arriving in Hollywood and really making a splash and showing the depth of talent. We just have to keep pushing and pressing and raising our hands. 

I think Lily’s big historic Oscar nomination the year that she’s had and her generosity in scooping everyone up around her and with her is a huge moment for all of us. 

Ultimately, the most important thing is that we just continue to write our scripts, tell our stories, and knock on the doors. We must continue supporting each other, rallying each other and cheering each other on. Hopefully, we can continue to see more projects and beautiful stories told from our communities with our own voices. 

Vincent Schilling: What advice do you have for young Indigenous filmmakers and actors?

Erica Tremblay: Just do what you love. My answer to this question is always community, community, community. Find those folks around you who are interested in doing the same things and support each other. 

When I was younger and first starting off, we would spend every other weekend working on a project. One weekend, it would be my project; the next weekend, it would be someone else’s. Just learn from each other and grow with each other. Find folks who are interested in doing this and do it together. Practice. You’ve got cell phones these days; you can get them out and play around and create art. That’s the biggest piece of advice I have. 

Write; if you want to be a writer, just write and read and write and read. Look for that community around you who’s interested in the same things.  

There are a lot of really incredible mentors and filmmakers who have been busting that door in front of me, and I’m very grateful to be in their draft. I am hoping that whatever I’m doing can help someone. We’ve got a lot of work to do. 

About the Athena Film Festival

The 14th annual festival, a partnership between Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership and the initiative Women and Hollywood, took place February 29 through March 3 on the Barnard campus in New York City. Founded in 2011, the Athena Film Festival champions diverse, nuanced, and complex stories of women leaders through its annual showcase of narrative films, documentaries, and short films, alongside powerful and thought-provoking conversations, and its numerous year-round creative development programs. Website: https://athenafilmfestival.com/