January 2020 - Now Showing: Little Chief
An exhausted schoolteacher does her best to provide for her classroom while keeping the world at an arm’s distance. A child struggles to find acceptance both at home and at school. These two individuals will become a necessity for each other, which is what Little Chief, a short film by Erica Tremblay, is about. Tremblay immediately draws you in, urging you to learn more about the characters who are forced to break down the walls they’ve built. Tremblay, a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation in Oklahoma, is extremely proud of her heritage. With every film she creates, she takes the opportunity to share the stories and experiences she has witnessed or learned of as a child. Little Chief was inspired by stories she heard when she was little. “There are certain stories I find myself telling over and over again, and I love talking about my mother and the work she does in our Native community,” shared Tremblay. “She has been an educator for most of my life, and she has sacrificed so much to provide safety and knowledge to our youth. Growing up, these sacrifices were just the reality that I knew and it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the unique set of challenges she faces as an Indigenous woman teaching Indigenous children. There is a real lack of understanding about modern Native America, and Little Chief offers a simple exploration of one reality set against the complicated constructs in which it exists.”
Tremblay conveyed so much emotion in such a short piece. The actors who portrayed the characters of Sharon, played by Lily Gladstone, and Bear, played by Julian Ballantyne, were perfect in their performances. “When people watch Little Chief I want them to feel like they are being dropped into the ongoing lives of these characters," shared Tremblay. "The issues Sharon and Bear are facing today are the same ones they dealt with yesterday. This is how the cycle of survival plays out in my community and I wanted to explore that cadence in the film. Sharon will wake up tomorrow with the same challenges and a new kid to console. There aren't plans to expand Little Chief into a feature film but I do want the audience to question what happens next so that we can continue the important dialogue around how corrupt systems are impacting our youth. The impacts of colonization don't stop when the credits roll.”
Tremblay, currently living on the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, grew up near her trust land in Oklahoma where her family was forcibly moved. She is currently studying her native Indigenous language. Her heritage is a badge she wears proudly and works hard to have it reflect in her work, even hiring Native actors and production staff into the process. She hopes that it will lead to a real discussion of Native struggle and what we all can do to make a change. “I am inspired by the vibrant matriarchs in my community that is fighting so hard to secure our future as a people. I want to showcase the spirit that exists in all aspects of our lives and explore those moments where we connect. As a two-spirit Haudenosaunee woman, I am drawn to stories that drive change. There’s a huge responsibility that comes along with having access to make films and media. It took me a while to figure that out, and it inhibited me as an artist and an activist. I was desperately trying to mimic what already existed and fit into this mainstream form that was actively working against me and the authentic stories I wanted to tell. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I am no longer interested in working on things that don’t have a direct and positive impact on my community.”
Tremblay is honored that Little Chief is a Sundance Official for this year. She is also a Sundance Indigenous Lab Film Fellow recipient since 2018. She realized having the backing of the Sundance organization is incredible, but the focus is always on the work. “It was incredible to be chosen as a Sundance Native Film Lab Fellow last year and premiering at the festival feels like coming full circle.” To see a sneak peek of Little Chief visit https://www.youtube.com.