Fancy Dance director had ‘one rule’ she didn’t break for personal film | Films | Entertainment

Fancy Dance director Erica Tremblay drew from devastating personal experience for the new Apple TV+ film, but she had one line she didn’t want to cross.

Killers of the Flower Moon’s Oscar-nominated star Lily Gladstone leads the drama as Jax with newcomer Isabel DeRoy-Olson portraying her niece Roki.

Jax cares for Roki on the Seneca–Cayuga Nation Reservation after the disappearance of her sister, but their way of life is threatened when they embark on a mission to find Roki’s mother.

Their powerful bond is given all the more weight as Fancy Dance is set against the backdrop of a stark reality that sees Native women disproportionately murdered and missing to this day.

“Unfortunately, [all that] is true,” Erica told “When I set out to make this film I knew I wanted to do an aunt and niece story and I kind of knew what the ending of the film looked like. I had that image in my head.

“As Native folks in our communities, we deal with our relatives going missing and being murdered at quite high rates. So this is definitely something myself and my co-writer Miciana [Alise] had experienced in our communities. And have witnessed in other Native communities.

“We have friends and relatives from different Nations. You can’t log on to Instagram or social media and not see a missing poster every day. This is just something that’s a part of what it means to be Native in modern America.

“And so we wanted to talk about these issues and have this issue be a part of the film.”

Although Fancy Dance deals heavily with the stark realities of living in Native communities, it also explores the joyous side of Indigenous culture as Jax and Roki prepare for an upcoming powwow, a traditional event filled with dancing, costumes and socialising between tribes.

Erica was also careful not to be too explicit about the harsh realities Native communities face whilst still respecting the hardships endured by so many to this day.

“We made a very conscious effort from day one to never show a dead body,” she explained.

“To never talk explicitly about the violence. And, while forced removal of Native kids and missing and murdered [women] was happening on the periphery, what we really wanted to focus on was what happens to the families that are left behind in the wake of this violence.

“And focus in on the relationship between these two women, and how they’re navigating such a great loss through the love and joy that they have for each other.”

In addition to authentic Native casting and a real-life powwow, much of the film’s dialogue is spoken in the Cayuga language, a critically endangered dialect spoken by only about 240 people.

Young actress Isabel drew from her background as a citizen of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation in the Yukon as well as the Lake Manitoba and Ebb and Flow First Nations in Canada to connect with the Seneca–Cayuga story.

“I grew up with both of those very different backgrounds; the prairies and the Arctic, you know?” she told us. “It’s different.

“But there are definitely similarities between Manitoba and down in Oklahoma. So getting to grow up around ceremonies and powwow was helpful. I definitely related.

“It was really cool getting to go to Oklahoma and being on the powwow trail, and getting to see and learn from so many incredible dancers. I was really grateful.”

Fancy Dance premieres on Friday, July 28 on Apple TV+.

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