Filmed with quiet resilience, filmmaker Erica Tremblay tells a difficult story with stylistic tenderness taken from true events. Tremblay's cinematic clarity, using engaging music and visuals against a backdrop of a serene landscape, sets the tone for her story in Little Chief. Tremblay says, "Building off my own experience growing up in Oklahoma and drawing from the true stories of my mother who is a Native school teacher, Little Chief, is a narrative of contemporary Native America."
Tremblay adds, "I hope Little Chief will provide insight, as well as, promote a national conversation about race, poverty and education from a unique perspective." Tremblay shares a couple of these questions she hopes will spark a positive dialogue: How do colonized cultures grapple with educating their youth in culturally-aware ways? or, What are the burdens on the next generation, and how are these children emotionally coping with a grim reality that they neither chose nor control? Tremblay is a filmmaker who strives to bring to life positive change through the art of storytelling.
A member of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation, Tremblay is proud to use an Indigenous cast for her short film Little Chief, to include actors Lily Gladstone (Sharon), Bella Baumgartner (student), and Julian Ballentyne (Bear), and produced through the Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab in 2018.
Sharon (Lily Gladstone) is a young school teacher who dreams of a different life than the one she currently leads on the Native American reservation where she was raised. Her professional teacher-mentoring role is exhausting. The expectations placed on Sharon by her community to be a role model scares her because her personal life is far from a good example. Trapped by guilt Sharon sidesteps her own needs and responsibly and puts on the mantle to genuinely care for the children in her charge--for their future.
Bear (Julian Ballentyne), a nine-year old student of Sharon's who she knows well, also dreams of a different life--one that is far away from a difficult home life. Over time, Sharon observes that Bear drifts further away from reality. She strategically chooses to find a way to let Bear know she understands his pain and is willing to help.