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Indigenous writer, producer, and director Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga) is making waves in the film industry with her groundbreaking directorial debut, “Fancy Dance,” which is set to receive the inaugural Jaya Award at the 14th annual Athena Film Festival this week.  

Taking place on Feb. 29 to March 3 at Barnard College in New York City, the 2024 Athena Film Festival was created in 2011 to advocate for and spotlight diverse, intricate, and underrepresented narratives of women’s leadership in cinema. 

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 Co-written by Tremblay and Miciana Alise (Tingit), “Fancy Dance” features Oscar-nominated actress Lily Gladstone (Blackfeet and Nez Pierce) in a captivating lead role. The film follows her journey after she takes her niece from her white grandparents following her sister’s disappearance embarking on a quest to preserve her remaining family ties at a powwow. 

Native News Online sat down with Tremblay, where she shared insights into her journey as a filmmaker, the inspiration behind “Fancy Dance,” and her aspirations for the future of Indigenous storytelling.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

 NNO: What inspired you to start your career path within the entertainment industry?

 Erica Tremblay:  When I was younger, I was always really inspired by the folks in my community who were storytellers and had the ability to captivate an audience. I always wanted to have that power. It wasn't until I was older that I realized filmmaking was a viable career path, one that women could excel in. My journey to this realization was quite indirect. I started off as a production assistant on various projects, then transitioned to a role in advertising, where I spent many years producing commercials. After that, I moved into publishing, creating digital content for different platforms. But amidst all this, I never forgot my dream of becoming a filmmaker.

One day I woke up remembering this dream that I had of being a filmmaker, and decided that I was going to give filmmaking a shot. I am grateful to the Sundance Film Institute for believing in my vision and helping me bring my first short film to life, which also featured Lily Gladstone and premiered at Sundance. 

From there, I embarked on the journey of bringing '”Fancy Dance” together, collaborating closely with my producer and co-writer to make it happen. It was a roundabout way, with plenty of detours along the way, but I feel incredibly grateful now to have had the opportunity to make this film and to have worked on television shows like “Reservation Dog” and “Dark Winds,” alongside many other talented Indigenous filmmakers and creators. It's truly a blessing to be in this position. 

NNO: Tell me about your experience working on your film “Fancy Dance.” What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

ET: You know, being written from my community and shot in Oklahoma on Cherokee Nation land is truly just such a gift. We made the film with so many incredible Indigenous and Oklahoma crew members, and to get to make the film with my friends and collaborators is such a dream. I'm just hoping that it reaches as many Native American living rooms as possible. 

NNO: Can you tell me a little about your panel discussion on “Decolonizing the Film Industry: Indigenous Women’s Voices” at the Athena Film Festival and why it is important to focus on Native storytellers? 

ET: I think our inclusion in the festival just feels so wonderful and so right. I'm thrilled to be screening the film on Saturday and to be taking part in a panel discussion about Native filmmaking and the importance of us telling our stories. Festivals are always so wonderful because they bring together the two things that make filmmaking the most exciting: the filmmakers and the audience. It's great to go to a festival and meet other filmmakers and also share the experience of watching a film with an audience. I'm just excited and thrilled to hear what others have to say and share in the discussion as well. 

NNO: What are some things you have in the works that audiences can look forward to in the future?

ET:  I'm currently working on the production of season three of “'Dark Winds,” which is an incredible experience. It's a privilege to collaborate daily with the Native writers on the show. Alongside this, I'm also in the process of developing a few projects, aiming to explore different genres and push my creative boundaries. My team and I are particularly focused on developing horror and a thriller project. I'm committed to following my instincts and pursuing projects that resonate with me while continually honing my craft to improve as a filmmaker.

NNO: What advice would you give to younger generations who want to venture into the entertainment industry? 

ET: I always emphasize the importance of community. It's about finding like-minded individuals who share your passions and support each other's endeavors. Collaborating, working on projects together, and lending a hand can make achieving your goals much easier. We're fortunate to live in an era where technology, like cell phones with built-in cameras, provides opportunities for practice and experimentation. Personally, I honed my skills by working on short films alongside colleagues and friends who were on similar paths. Not everyone has access to traditional film school, but there's a vast wealth of information available online, and connecting with others who share your interests is a fantastic way to learn and grow. 

For aspiring writers, my advice is simple: write, read, repeat. Immerse yourself in writing and reading as much as possible. There are countless screenplays available online, offering insights and lessons from some of the greatest writers in history. I'm eagerly looking forward to what the future holds and excited to discover new Native filmmakers. As this new generation rises in the industry, I'm eager to learn from their perspectives and experiences.

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.