The Cinematography Podcast Episode 203: Fancy Dance and King Coal

The dramatic film Fancy Dance follows an indigenous woman named Jax, who hustles to get by on her reservation in Oklahoma. When her sister Tawi disappears, Jax is responsible for taking care of her niece Roki. The two search for Tawi and ask for help from law enforcement who does little to help. Meanwhile, they steal cars and scam people in card games, which leads to Roki being taken out of Jax’s care and placed with her white grandfather. Jax kidnaps Roki, and the two road trip to get to the state powwow to find out more about Tawi’s disappearance and where Roki plans to perform a dance.

Fancy Dance director and writer Erica Tremblay and cinematographer Carolina Costa met when Erica was searching for a DP and Carolina was on a short list. Carolina loved the script, and felt the film was special just from reading the page- she could see all the visuals in her mind, and felt it was important to see these characters come alive on the big screen. She decided to keep the lighting natural and didn’t use a lot of additional lights. They wanted the film to feel specific to the topography of Oklahoma in the summer- a hot, humid time, when the sky is a very washed out blue. Erica and Carolina had a lot of conversations about what the film would look and feel like, including using natural moonlight as a symbol of Tawi, the missing sister and mother. The moon is a symbol of matrilineal kinship which is vital to the Native American community.

One of the biggest challenges facing director Erica Tremblay was finding financing for Fancy Dance. It was hard to convince the right people to fund a film whose main character is an abrasive, lawless, queer indigenous woman. Erica grew up in the Seneca Cayuga nation, and drew upon characters she knew. She wanted her script to reflect the issues faced by Native Americans today, especially the crisis of missing indigenous women who are never found. But she also includes humor, loving family connections and the celebration of joyous culture at the powwow.

Fancy Dance is seeking distribution.

Find Erica Tremblay

Find Carolina Costa

Find Fancy Dance: Instagram #fancydancemovie

Director Elaine Sheldon describes her movie King Coal as part documentary and part fable, as she takes a poetic and personal look at the influence of coal in Appalachia. It was once King in the region, but as the economic power of coal wanes, Elaine explores the question of what a future without coal might look like. There is no scripting in the film, and she uses two girls who act as characters to bringing the audience for the movie. People continue to celebrate coal culture in these communities, and the film documents some of the interesting rituals around coal festivals, fun runs, beauty pageants and even a coal themed amusement park.

Elaine and her husband, cinematographer Curren Sheldon, wanted to tell a new story about the region- for so long, West Virginia and the surrounding areas have been seen as just a place to exploit for coal. Both Elaine and Sheldon grew up in the area, and Elaine wanted her personal storytelling and narration to heighten the feeling of what it’s like to be in this place, and imagine what it would be like to exist there without coal. They wanted to show Appalachia as a beautiful, green and forested community, not as a poor, destroyed place. The land itself has meaning, so they shot images of the fog rising, textures of bison, the moss, and sunlight through the trees. Coal came from the earth, and at one time it was just sitting alongside all the other natural elements. Elaine decided to end the film looking ahead to an uncertain future. They held a “funeral” for King Coal and the community turned out, with a casket, music and impromptu eulogies.

King Coal is seeking distribution.

Find Elaine Sheldon

Find Curren Sheldon

Instagram @kingcoalfilm

Close Focus: After doing the podcast for NINE YEARS, our friend Bill Totolo asks what insights Ben and Illya have learned about cinematographers and cinematography.

Ben’s short end: Philomena Cunk, a character played by Diane Morgan, is in a five part series on Netflix called Cunk on Earth that is shot like a real nature documentary. She plays a character that asks real experts stupid questions.

Illya’s short end: The multi-talented Seth Rogan now has a place available to rent on AirBnB this month, promoting his pottery and lifestyle brand, Houseplant.

Listen to Ben’s new horror series Catchersavailable NOW only on Audible!

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Instagram: @thecinepod

Twitter: @ShortEndz


Podcast Credits:

Producer: Alana Kode

All web and social media content written by Alana Kode

Host and editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman

Instagram: @illyafriedman @hotrodcameras

Host: Ben Rock

Twitter: @neptunesalad

Instagram: @bejamin_rock

Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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