Destination Natchez: How a Mississippi city could become the Hollywood of the South
NATCHEZ, Miss. (WLBT) - Hollywood could soon have some competition in the South. The City of Natchez is quickly becoming the premier destination to shoot films, TV shows, music videos and more.
Hundreds of thousands of people already visit the city every year, and millions of dollars are also being pumped into the small town thanks to the film industry.
But city leaders want to take their new-found fame to the next level.
On any given day in the City of Natchez, you can find cameras on almost every corner and famous movie stars shooting scenes around town.
“It is kind of cool to have Morgan Freeman hanging out with you, and run into Pattie Labelle downtown, only in Natchez,” said Mayor Dan Gibson.
He says the movie industry began turning its attention to Natchez since the early 1900s with the Mississippi city being featured on the silver screen over the years in various films, TV shows and more.
The spotlight is now shining even brighter.
Some of the most notable films shot in Natchez include portions of “Get on Up” starring the late Chadwick Boseman. The movie chronicles of life of James Brown.
The 2021 movie “Breaking News in Yuba County” and the psychological horror thriller “Ma” with Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer were also both filmed in the city.
Mississippi-native Tate Taylor directed all three films and has now opened Crooked Letter Picture Company with producer, John Noris in Natchez.
“Having them here as partners to this community has really been a wonderful opportunity for us,” said Devin Heath who is the Executive Director for Visit Natchez. He recently helped open a film office in the city that helps productions with scouting and logistical needs.
I asked him the question many people are probably wondering: Why is Natchez such a hotbed for movies?
“You can film any kind of movie that you want here,” he responded. “We have settings obviously can be set on the river, the Mississippi River, as well as any kind of setting you are looking for. So, the resources are here. Mississippi has a great rebate program that producers can take advantage of and support their productions.”
There are no signs of slowing down. At least five movies have been shot in Natchez in the last year, including the Hallmark Christmas movie ”Every Time a Bell Rings.”
This week, the horror movie “From Black” is in production. Actor and Natchez resident Ritchie Montgomery is starring in the movie.
“I can walk to work,” he said. “I don’t have to get on a plane, I don’t have to get in my car. I can open the front door, walk down to the base camp, give hair and makeup and go on and show them some magic.”
This movie magic is producing a lot of money for the city.
“We did several movies last year, and I was told that each movie brought in $5-to-$8,000,000 in revenue for the city,” the mayor revealed.
This success on the big screen is part of the Natchez renewal plan that is attracting more businesses to the area.
Robbie Cade Furdge and her husband own the new downtown restaurant Rolling River Reloaded. The business is just one of more than two dozen that have setup shop in the city over the past year.
“This used to be the staple in Natchez. This was Rolling River Bistro prior to us being here, so we decided to reload it and open it and bring in all the tourists, all the locals and give some of the southern flavor that we felt like was needed in the area,” she said.
Fulfilling this hunger for more restaurants in Natchez is paying off. In fact, she has even had some movie stars stop by.
“So my Auntie Patty LaBelle has been here, Tim Reid, Keisha Knight Pullman, and a lot of people have come through here and it has been a blessing.”
Across the street, the city and investors are working to breathe new life into an abandoned, historic structure.
“The old Eola Hotel was built in the 1927,” said Mayor Gibson. “When this reopens, it is going to be a hotel. It’s also going to be great restaurants. It’s also going to include retail conference space. Dickie Brennan, the famous restaurateur from New Orleans, is involved in this and several great people. It is going to happen.”
Historic homes and sites in Natchez are also growing in popularity. Thousands are expected to come from all over the world for tours as part of the Fall and Spring Pilgrimage.
African American history also becoming a major tourist attraction and focal point.
There’s a Proud to Take a Stand monument that honors those Natchez-Adams County citizens who were wrongfully incarcerated in 1965 for standing up for civil and voting rights.
Forks of The Road landmark, the second largest slave trading market in the Deep South, has been signed over to the National Park Service to develop it into a major park site and tell the complete story of what happened there.
The city also kicked off a Natchez U.S. Colored Troops Monument Project to raise money to highlight more than 3,000 soldiers who served and give them the recognition they deserve.
Natchez Police Chief Jospeh Daughtery is also excited about the growth, but knows it comes with the need for extra eyes in the streets making sure people are safe.
“We have some crime issues that cities all across this country are having, but we are combating it and educating our citizens on how to reduce crime,” he said. “The measures that we are taking to make sure that they are safe are increasing our manpower as well as buying new equipment.”
The chief says while the city continues to tackle crime in parts of the city, it is not affecting tourism, saying, “Natchez is one of the safest cities in the state of Mississippi. That is what we’re here to do, to make sure our citizens as well as visitors are safe.”
City leaders and citizens believe this is just the start of a bigger, brighter and better future for Natchez.
“The hope is that Natchez will blow up and be the hub, the epicenter for everything. We will have so many great things that will draw people here and the locals will love being here as well,” said Furdge.
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