Catawba Studios Making Progress
“I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and the people out there trying to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”
Leonardo DiCaprio — Excerpt from his acceptance speech
after winning the 2016 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in
a Motion Picture Drama for his role in “The Revenant.”
By Patra Taylor
The voice of the Catawba Nation is being heard loud and clear regarding a $350 million movie studio project proposed for a 124-acre site on tribal land in York County, South Carolina. Studio South of Charlotte has partnered with the Catawba Nation, the only federally recognized tribe in the state of South Carolina, to explore the development of Catawba Studios, a complex that includes movie-making sound stages, along with a hotel, cultural center, film and music school, and retail and office space. When complete, the project is expected to provide 1,000 or more jobs for members of the tribe and other area residents. If given the green light, Catawba Studios will likely be the largest movie studio east of Los Angeles.
According to Catawba Chief Bill Harris, the tribe’s involvement in this project is all about two words: economic development. Chief Harris says that the Catawba Nation has signed a memorandum of understanding with Studio South, and has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the development of this project that he believes will provide a steady revenue stream for the tribe, and ultimately reduce its reliance on government grants that are laden with spending restrictions. The project is expected to reduce the unemployment rate among the 3,000-member tribe that has historically been higher than the region’s average. “This is a project about Native Americans on Native American land,” states Chief Harris. “We are doing our due diligence, and they are doing theirs, and we’re going to try to see if we can make this thing happen.”
According to Bert Hesse, Studio South is committed to respecting the tribal land proposed for development. “This is an opportunity for the Catawba to make their mark,” says Hesse, who is the executive director of Studio South. “It’s a game-changer for the Catawba.”
Studio South is a company that develops, builds and manages full-service motion picture and television sound stages and production facilities, as well as artists’ lofts and offices. “We have partnered with Leidos, a top global construction management company, and Pacifica Ventures, a successful and respected movie studio management company, to ensure that we offer the latest in design, technology, security and services for any production needs, no matter the budget,” explains Hesse. “Studio South is aggressively seeking locations to expand in states that are hungry for the economic boost the film industry brings. These states increase jobs and revenue by providing incentives for the filmmakers and a high quality of life for those who work in the industry. I believe that Studio South’s partnering with the Catawbas is a natural fit.”
Involving the Catawba Nation opens up Native American financing options previously unavailable to Studio South, Hesse notes.
When the project was publically announced in July 2015, the first steps to making Catawba Studio a reality had already been taken. Hesse had met with a number of community leaders outside the tribe including those from the York County Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee, S.C. Department of Commerce, the S.C. Film Commission and the governor’s office; and Chief Harris had begun seeking other Native American involvement in the project.
Hesse says that by early 2016, additional progress had been made, moving the project closer to the actual construction phase and that several important milestones have already been attained. Catawba Studios acquired Red Heritage Media, a Charlotte-based production company, and moved it to Fort Mill, S.C. until it can make its final move into the studio lot. Also, Catawba Studios was awarded Federal funds to be used toward pre-development costs, and other funding opportunities are being explored. Hesse says that if everything falls into place, construction of the $35 million phase one could start later this year. Phase one includes three sound stages and a tour-event center with an IMAX movie theater. The entire $350 million project could take up to 10 years to complete.
Leonardo DiCaprio won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Hugh Glass in “The Revenant,” a motion picture he described in his acceptance speech as a “transcendent cinematic experience.” This epic movie raises the bar in filmmaking by shattering the stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans through the film’s relentless and unparalleled authenticity. Just as “The Revenant” is a game-changer in the American film industry, Catawba Studios is a game-changer for this country’s indigenous people by strengthening their voice in the world’s most influential medium…the motion picture.
Interior set/sound stage, Studio South facility.
Studio South facility, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Bert Hesse: Executive Director, Studio South.
Catawba at THE CORN EXPOSITION 1913 Rock Hill.
Bill Harris; Chief, Catawba Indian Nation.