It’s been a journey for director Erica Tremblay and her film “Fancy Dance” to get distribution for the project. It tells the story of an Indigenous woman (played by Lily Gladstone) trying to solve the disappearance of her sister while simultaneously caring for her teenage niece.
A film written and directed by women, told by Indigenous creatives (Tremblay is a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation) and starring one of the most in-demand actresses of the year in Gladstone, who is drawing Oscar talk for her role in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” should have companies chomping at the bit to put it out there. And yet it doesn’t.
Tremblay’s frustration comes from having done all the work required to get her movie in front of people.
“There’s a checklist that you’re given, especially when you’re making your first feature,” said Tremblay. That includes developing a strong script, getting that script into the hands of great producers — like Nina Yang Bongiovi who produced “Fancy Dance” — getting great actors and putting it in front of the best festivals. “Fancy Dance” played at both the Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals.
The director isn’t sure where the hesitation is coming from, but hopes it’s not because “Killers of the Flower Moon” is making Hollywood believe they’ve covered all Native stories.
“There was a moment once where someone said, ‘Well, is ‘Dark Winds’ going to be able to live with ‘Reservation Dogs’?” Tremblay said, referring to the two Native projects at AMC and Hulu, respectively. “And I was like, ‘What?’ You wouldn’t even compare two white people shows. They’re so completely different.”
If anything, it’s possible that the hesitation is stemming from an overall downturn in film acquisitions due to a soft theatrical market. Tremblay believes this, more than anything, is at the heart of it.
“It’s specifically been a hard year for independent film,” she said. “The buyers are not buying as many films. I’ve got a lot of colleagues [who] we’ve been traveling along this festival circuit together, and a lot of them have not found homes for their film yet.”
“The thing that’s just been toughest is to grapple with is the fact that, if we don’t find the right distribution partner, the film won’t find an audience,” Tremblay told TheWrap. “And, for me, that’s just so sad, because you look at these films that are made on similar topics by non-Native, mostly white, filmmakers, and those find the audience.”
Tremblay isn’t calling out any one film, and admitted she’s a fan of Scorsese’s “Killers.” The issue is the continued mentality that only one film can represent a marginalized community at a time, as well as the continued emphasis on showing Natives in peril. “There’s a real commodification of Native pain and Native trauma,” Tremblay said.
“That is something that we, as an industry, and we, as a society, have to ask ourselves. Why is this what we want to watch over, and over and over again?” Tremblay made an active decision not to show a dead body and never go into detail on the violence. “I’m more interested in seeing Native characters moving through those worlds versus working through white guilt.”
Tremblay said she has no illusions that she, as a first-time director, has to be prove herself. But it’s hard not to wonder how much prestige “Fancy Dance” could get if it had the same level of financial support and resources put into it compared to “Flower Moon,” which has a budget of $200 million.
“If we even had a fraction of those resources versus than less than 1%, we could really make a moment for this Native-made, female-made, queer-made film,” Tremblay said.
But, regardless, Tremblay is hopeful that a studio will find the movie and pick it up for distribution, even if it’s primarily due to Lily Gladstone.
“Everyone wants more Lily Gladstone,” Tremblay said. “We know that we made a good movie. We know that we made a movie that should, and hopefully will, have a moment on a streaming platform. I want my mom, and my aunties back home, and my cousins to get to watch ‘Killers [of the Flower Moon]’ and ‘Fancy Dance.’”