‘Nomadland’: What the Oscar-winning film will mean for South Dakota tourism

KELOLAND.com Original

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 25: Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao, winners of Best Picture for “Nomadland,” pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — ‘Nomadland’, partially- filmed right here in South Dakota, received three Academy Awards at last night’s Oscars.

Director Chloe Zhao, left, appears with actress Frances McDormand on the set of “Nomadland.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

The film was awarded Best Picture, while Frances McDormand was named Best Actress and Chloe Zhao was named Best Director. ‘Nomadland’ was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing.

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Frances McDormand in a scene from the film “Nomadland” by Chloe Zhao. McDormand stars as a woman living rootlessly across the American West after the Great Recession. (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

The film joins these other well-known Oscar-winning films that used South Dakota as a filming location:

  • ‘How the West Was Won’: Best Original Screenplay (1964), Best Sound Mixing (1964) and Best Film Editing (1964) .
  • ‘Dances with Wolves’: Best Picture (1991), Best Adaptive Screenplay (1991), Best Original Score (1991), Best Sound Mixing (1991), Best Director (1991), Best Cinematography (1991) and Best Film Editing (1991).

What will this mean for tourism in the state?

‘Nomadland’ features the beautiful landscapes of South Dakota, from Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Rapid City and Black Hills National Forest, all inspiring travelers to visit the sites of the state and allow them to envision themselves in the film.

“Having Nomadland filmed here and the success that they have seen is absolutely incredible,” said Katyln Svendsen, Global Media and Public Relations Director for South Dakota Department of Tourism.

Svendsen says first and foremost they are very proud of Chloe and her team. Chloe has shot a number of films throughout the state before, and Svendsen says she holds a special spot for South Dakota. She says the success of the team also brings South Dakota to the huge stage as well.

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures via SD Department of Tourism

“Knowing that they’ve taken that ability and brought South Dakota some international attention through their film is pretty incredible,” Svendsen said.

Travel South Dakota has also created a page highlighting the film and the locations featured, as well as some of Chloe’s story.

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures via SD Department of Tourism

The interest in visiting those locations has increased a lot and to top it off, in 2019 the state began seeing increased interest in the road trip, Svendsen says, and of course, 2020 created a even larger interest for this road trip travel.

“Then to have Nomadland come out and showcase America and South Dakota through the lens of a road trip and through the eyes of someone like the actress Frances McDormand, seeing that journey that Fern played along the way is absolutely incredible,” Svendsen said. “I think people really took to heart the fact that they could take a road trip in their own homes through Nomadland was a really interesting experience for people as they were mostly staying at home in 2020.”

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures via SD Department of Tourism

As the movie has just received multiple Oscars, Svendsen does expect to see it draw in additional tourists. She says she looks at the film ‘Dances with Wolves’, which continues to draw in visitors acquiring about where they can go in the state to experience the sites and scenes that were filmed throughout that movie and how they can experience it for themselves. She expects that Nomadland will have a similar sentiment.

“The filmography is just completely beautiful and it showcases Badlands National Park in such a great light, so we expect really good things in the future and knowing that that spurs economic development in South Dakota and it inspires people to travel all around is an incredible feat for a film and we are very proud of Chloe and so grateful that she put South Dakota on a huge stage this way,” Svendsen said.

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures via SD Department of Tourism

People are anxious to get on the road and travel more, Svendsen says, and with that the state is expecting to see an increase in tourists this year. Wall Drug, for instance, has already seen an increase in visitors saying they came because of Nomadland.

Badlands National Park will also experience an increase in visitors, she says.

The state will be preparing their information center staff with a good amount of information about how visitors can experience the scenes that they saw play out in Nomadland, Svendsen says, and of course, they also experience word-of-mouth marketing and more people share and watch the film.

Wall Drug’s famous donuts are becoming even more popular

Sarah Hustead, Vice President of Wall Drug says the popular tourist site has seen a lot of people coming in and recognizing aspects of the location from the film, such as the famous Wall Drug donuts and hot beef.

Hustead says they have had customers saying they have watched the movie and had to come check out Wall Drug for themselves.

Even some of the employees who were in the movie are getting recognized by fans of the film. Hustead says there were quite a few employees in the background of the film, but they had about five employees who played prominent roles in those scenes.

‘Nomadland’ was the first film on the big screen that has been filmed at Wall Drug, Hustead says. They were honored to be one of the filming locations for ‘Nomadland’ and said it was amazing to get to work with the cast and crew.

“They are very kind people that are capturing such an important message of our country right now,” Hustead said.

Hustead says that now that the film is an Oscar-winning movie, it is “beyond our wildest dreams.”

With so many people paying attention to the Oscars, Hustead says they expect to see an increase in people coming to Wall Drug.

“I think we will see a longer last impact, as opposed to if it had not won or been nominated,” Hustead said. “Nomadland will be a part of South Dakota for many years to come now.”

They are continuing what they always do, honoring their traditions Hustead says, but preparing for an increase in business. They are added additional outdoor seating options to accommodate the larger crowds.

It is such an honor to know that the film was shot in Wall Drug, Hustead says, they are proud to be a part of it.

Being an extra in an Oscar-winning film

Kim Bartling, Communications Professor and Theater Director at her business The Humanity Launch, restored her 1967 Holiday Golden Falcon camper about four years ago, without knowing that it would one day be featured in an Oscar winning film.

Photo courtesy of Kim Bartling

While she was working as a film professor, she saw that the crew was looking for people to go to the Badlands and camp. At the time, Bartling was teaching a film course for USD, and at the interview the only thing she was told was that Chloe Zhao was the director, who had directed some films that Bartling featured in her class and that it was a “road trip film for women of a certain age.”

Photo courtesy of Kim Bartling

“It was awesome,” Bartling said. “I didn’t know that Frances was the lead until about six hours of me working there.”

Bartling was supposed to be on set for three days, but they ended up keeping her for a week.

Her favorite part of the film was the comradery between everyone involved on set.

“I think all film is important in that it’s an art form that shows ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances,” Bartling said.

As a teacher, Bartling says she wants all of us to know that there should be pride in the history of our geography.

Last night in her acceptance speech, Frances said that Nomadland was a film that needed to be watched on the big screen, and Bartling says she thinks that’s imperative.

“Especially after COVID, we are all so busy being, you know, in this little frame, whether it’s our phones or our computers, this is a film that we all need to see on the big screen,” Bartling said. “It is absolutely breath-taking and I am so proud to be a South Dakotan.”

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