Gordon Daman, Juliette Hagopian, and Myron Dyck at the official sod-turning for Jette Studios in Niverville.Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It’s been more than a year since the announcement broke that a film studio was destined for Niverville. On Monday, June 10, that reality took a giant leap forward.

In the morning, dignitaries, officials, and friends gathered at the future site of Jette Studios on the corner of Highway 311 and Wallace Road, there to mark the official sod-turning ceremony.

Putting shovel to soil were Niverville mayor Myron Dyck, MLA Ron Schuler, and Juliette Hagopian, filmmaker and owner of Jette Studios. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Lisa Naylor had to decline an appearance at the last minute.

Also on scene to witness the prestigious event were Kenny Boyce, Manager of Film and Special Events for the City of Winnipeg; Brian Clasper, Director of Film Finance for Manitoba Film & Music; Chuck Davidson and Elvin Krahn representing the Manitoba and Niverville Chambers of Commerce; and Colin Ferguson of Travel Manitoba.

“Today’s [sod-turning] will go down in history as a tipping point for the community,” said Gordon Daman, event emcee and project consultant. “It will propel the community into hyperdrive in many ways, and that’s thanks to Juliette.”

Daman also commended Niverville’s council and staff for the hundreds of hours they’ve invested in making this dream a reality.

On behalf of the community, Mayor Dyck also spoke from the podium.

“One of my favourite movies was entitled Field of Dreams,” Dyck said. “As I stand here in this field, it kind of feels like this, too, is a field of dreams.”

While this dream began with Hagopian, Dyck said, the dream has since become his own as he considers the potential kickback the community will enjoy in terms of job creation, tourism, and economic and residential growth.

“I dream about having the performing arts and other trades and support services to the film industry taught at our high school as part of their education,” said Dyck. “One day, a high school graduate will walk across the stage and receive an award for the highest marks in the field of film and supporting trades.”

The next steps for Dyck, he says, will be to reach out to the Minister of Education as well as the Hanover School Division and the Niverville High School’s principal to discuss a collaboration to turn this dream a reality.

The Studio Project

In recent days, passersby will have noticed the new Jette Studios sign along Highway 311 and the movement of large landscaping equipment. Roads are currently being built on the site.

On June 10, site preparations also begin for the introduction of the first of two large production buildings. Phase one will include a 25,000-square-foot solid structure with a 40-foot internal clearance, large enough to house a state-of-the-art LED screen capable of projecting backgrounds for any set imaginable.

Kyle Bially is the consultant and general contractor hired by Jette Studios for the build. He’s also a resident of Niverville.

“It’s a big [building],” Bially told The Citizen. “Probably one of Niverville’s biggest.”

The building, made of precast concrete, will be constructed offsite and assembled at the site, like a Lego model, sometime in July. Bially anticipates that the shell will be fully constructed by the end of July.

Even so, Bially projects a 2025 opening date on the studio since the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical components will take some time.

“It’s not going to be quick, but six months for a large building like that is still a tight timeline,” Bially says.

According to Hagopian, phase two of the studio’s development will include a second building almost four times the size. This one will be located closest to the highway and take up a footprint of 90,000 square feet.

Bially says Hagopian has been working with local artists to design murals that will cover two free-standing walls intended to hide the building’s exterior components, such as air conditioners and fans from highway view.

Phases one and two will cover approximately four acres of land.

But as Hagopian’s movie studio dreams evolve, another 16 acres will be available for further development which she anticipates will take place over the next five years.

Eventually, the project will likely include on-campus housing units for out-of-town actors, film crew, writers, directors, producers, and executives from around the world.

“This is a unique campus approach,” Daman adds. “It’s not been done before. In the research that I’ve done, I actually haven’t found anything [like it] in North America. It’s actually a production village.”

By the time all is said and done, costs are expected to run in the tens of millions of dollars.

Jette Studios is not just for Hagopian’s use, though. She anticipates film companies from around the world coming to use the facility once it’s complete. Her one-stop model for movie production, she believes, will be a big deal.

About Hagopian

Over Hagopian’s many years in the movie-making industry, she’s built a reputation as one of Canada’s premier producers. She is the owner of Julijette Inc., a film production company based out of Winnipeg.

Last year, she received four Canadian Screen Award nominations and three awards for a made-for-TV film she produced called The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story.

Hagopian, though, is far more than just a film producer. She is also well known for the many mentorship hours she’s provided to up-and-coming producers.

“Juliette is known in the film industry not only for her passion but her ability to cultivate relationships industry wide and further a deep commitment to the sustainability of the industry as a whole,” Daman says. “Juliette’s vision to develop an integrated campus approach for Jette Studios, combining leading-edge technology with traditional film-making practices, is truly legacy in nature.”

As to why Hagopian chose Niverville, she says there were a number of reasons.

First and foremost, she needed a rural location in order to take advantage of the province’s five percent tax credits for films produced in rural settings.

“Every time I make a movie, I always get asked, ‘Can we get the five percent?’” Hagopian says. “So I’m always looking [for those rural locations].”

Niverville fit the bill perfectly, she adds, because of its reputation as the fastest-growing community in Manitoba and fifth fastest in Canada. That, she says, tells her something about the vibrancy of the community.

It didn’t hurt either, that she has family living in Niverville: Henok Gebre of Negash Coffee.

The drive from her Winnipeg home, she says, is a scenic one and the ability to build at the northwest corner of the community is ideal.

“I wanted to make sure that the windows in the building were facing west and east so I would always see the sunrise and the sunset,” Hagopian said.

Addressing the one-year delay in getting things started, Hagopian says she faced two key hurdles.

The original inflatable popup structure she planned to build at first proved to be unviable for Manitoba’s climate. This took her and Bially’s team back to the drawing board for a more permanent solution.

After that, she adds, financing the deal took some time.

Even so, Hagopian never lost hope, because she’s a dreamer and her dream never died.

“I think it’s important that if you have a desire to do something, you just do it,” Hagopian says. “If it’s your dream, you make it happen.”

In just one year of getting to know Hagopian, Bially says that she’s far more than just a dreamer.

“Juliette is a great person,” Bially says. “She puts people before profit, so she’ll be a great addition to the community. She already has plans on how she’ll give back [here].”

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 10, 2024 at 16:11

This item reprinted with permission from   The Citizen   Niverville, Manitoba
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