For over a year, director Erica Tremblay’s acclaimed Sundance drama “Fancy Dance” went undistributed without a means to see it. Its star Lily Gladstone, Oscar-nominated for another Native American-led film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” has taken time from her awards campaign to champion the film and urge anyone in Hollywood to support it and give it a home.
Today, that effort has finally paid off. Apple Original Films has acquired the global rights to “Fancy Dance” and will release it both in theaters and on Apple TV+ later this year. A release date was not specified, and terms of the deal were not disclosed.
More from IndieWire
“Our film ‘Fancy Dance’ has found the perfect home with Apple, and I am thrilled to share this beautiful story of two Seneca-Cayuga women with a global audience.” Tremblay said in a statement. “As a Native American filmmaker, seeing my community included in the rich tapestry of cinema is a dream come true.”
In December 2023 at the IndieWire Honors event, Gladstone pulled a fast one and said the best work she’s done in her career, with the “most visionary, most committed director of my life” and in a film that elevated the “awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women,” was not for her Oscar-nominated performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” but the undistributed “Fancy Dance.” She noted that IndieWire named “Fancy Dance” as one of the films most likely to sell big out of Sundance 2023, only to watch it get no love from distributors despite its critical acclaim.
“Here we are in December and still nothing. Everything I’ve heard from everybody who’s been lucky enough to catch ‘Fancy Dance’ at a festival, who follows the independent circuit […] they have all said it gives them what was missing from ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ the matriarchal, the matrilineal love story, the way that we give everything for our women,” Gladstone said. “We give everything for our nieces, our sisters, our aunties. They feel — whatever void leaving the theater that was left by this horrendous story of the Osage reign of terror, following a survivor of it — if they’ve been lucky enough to see ‘Fancy Dance,’ they feel that it satiated that need.”
Gladstone wasn’t alone in championing it, as Tremblay also co-wrote an op-ed in THR, saying that one major studio wanted to screen “Fancy Dance” for diversity training purposes but showed no interest in buying it. She wondered if Hollywood’s interest in Indigenous stories was limited to the “white lens” in projects like “Yellowstone,” “Prey,” and others.
“As first-time indie filmmakers, we were under absolutely no illusion that ‘Fancy Dance’ would receive the same kind of industry support as Mr. Scorsese’s juggernaut, but the disparity is so great that it renders our film virtually invisible and leaves only one available perspective: the non-Native one,” Tremblay wrote.
Finding a home at Apple then is a fitting landing spot for “Fancy Dance” and the best possible outcome for a film that had inexplicably sat on a shelf for over a year. It keeps Apple in the Lily Gladstone business after the studio’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” netted 10 Oscar nominations. And while it’s unlikely to get the wide theatrical rollout “Flower Moon” did with a release from Paramount, the deep-pocketed Apple is in the best position to get the film seen by a wide audience.
It also further demonstrates Apple’s commitment to Indigenous stories and storytellers. Apple last month announced grants to the Sundance Institute Indigenous Program and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to support Indigenous storytelling and the preservation of Native American history. The contributions were part of Apple’s Empowering Creatives program, which supports organizations that help people in underinvested communities unlock their creative potential.
“Fancy Dance” stars Gladstone as Jax, who since her sister’s disappearance has cared for her niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) while 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 and at the mercy of a failed justice system.
Gladstone stars alongside Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Crystle Lightning, and Audrey Wasilewski. Tremblay made her directorial debut on “Fancy Dance” and also co-wrote with Miciana Alise and produced the film.
“Fancy Dance,” a Confluential Films and Significant Productions/AUM Group production, is produced by Deidre Backs, Tremblay, Heather Rae, Nina Yang Bongiovi, and Tommy Oliver. Gladstone, Bird Runningwater, Charlotte Koh, and Forest Whitaker serve as executive producers.
Gladstone’s first role announced after landing her Oscar nomination was “Memory Police,” a film directed by Reed Morano and written by Charlie Kaufman that will again pair her with Scorsese, who is executive producing the film.
The deal for the “Fancy Dance” was brokered by WME Independent on behalf of the filmmakers. Tremblay is represented by WME, Ragna Nervik Management and Frankfurt, Kurnit Klein. Gladstone is represented by Independent Artist Group, McKuin Frankel Whitehead and Authentic Talent and Literary Management, the latter of which also reps Deroy-Olson, along with Red Management.
Best of IndieWire