Chief Standing Bear movie project gets star power lift, deals with minor Nebraska grant setback

By: - April 10, 2023 4:54 pm

A Choctaw Nation Color Guard representative and “I Am A Man” director Andrew Troy at the unveiling ceremony of the Chief Standing Bear statue at Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building. (Courtesy of Troy Entertainment)

OMAHA — The show will go on and is adding star power, even though the State of  Nebraska has pulled a $400,000 grant allocated for the planned historical drama film about Ponca Chief Standing Bear.

Filmmaker Andrew Troy on Monday announced he’ll team up with acclaimed Irish playwright and director Jim Sheridan to co-write, direct and produce “I Am a Man: The True Story of Chief Standing Bear.”

Jim Sheridan (Courtesy of Hell’s Kitchen Ltd. )

Troy for years has been developing the project that will highlight the Ponca “trail of tears” march that led to the 1879 landmark Omaha-based trial of Standing Bear v. Crook. That federal case helped establish the rights of Native Americans to be considered human beings, or persons, under U.S. law, and set legal precedent for many future civil rights court matters.

Troy, of Troy Entertainment, has received endorsements and support from the Ponca Tribes of Nebraska and Oklahoma and the northeastern Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation Film Office. 

Grant pulled

The Sheridan partnership follows a recent decision by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to open a $400,000 Nebraska Film Office grant that earlier had been earmarked for Troy’s Standing Bear film.

A DED spokesperson said a problem arose over a missed deadline in launching principal photography. Kate Ellingson told the Nebraska Examiner that Troy Entertainment could reapply for that $400,000 grant, along with other filmmakers who have voiced interest in the funding.

Troy said he’d likely do that, or find another solution with DED.

He said difficulties with the grant rules were the main reason he later went back to the Legislature to build support for a different proposal that led to a $5 million grant for which he is “overjoyed and grateful.” 

Oliver Littlecook, senior chair of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, at left, meets with Andrew Troy. (Courtesy of Troy Entertainment)

That larger amount was provided through an economic recovery bill led by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha.

Of the now-defunct grant agreement, Troy said the rules had been “rewritten to look more like a very rigid ‘tax rebate’ and as a result has not allowed us to collect these funds to date.”

The “I Am A Man” project had been among three productions selected to split $1 million set aside in 2021 by the Nebraska Legislature, a response to a proposal by State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln. Prerequisites were that they feature Nebraska-based stories and locales, employ the services of Nebraska film crew members and have a budget of at least $1 million.

The other two projects, “The Snack Shack” and “Going for Two,” received their grants, said Ellingson.

Other financial opportunities

Troy said he has developed additional financial opportunities in the City of Fremont, where the mayor and city council awarded incentives for filming within their county. Screen Ireland has also provided development incentives.

He touted the agreement with Sheridan, whose work includes “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father” and “In America.” Sheridan’s films have garnered numerous Oscar nominations, international recognitions and led to Academy Awards for actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker. 

“I am delighted to be working with Andrew on this wonderful project,” Sheridan said in a media release.

Standing Bear lost his land, his livelihood, his home, his daughter, his son, his freedom and had to fight for his personhood — but he never lost his humanity, and his faith.

– Judi gaiashkibos, Ponca Tribe member and director of Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs

Direct descendants of Chief Standing Bear attend an unveiling ceremony of his statue in the U.S. Capitol Building. (Courtesy of Troy Entertainment)

Among the work of Hollywood-based producer and director Troy is “Salinger,” “The Runaways,” “Growing Up Smith” and the upcoming “Midnight in the Orange Grove.” He was a 2021 Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences semifinalist for the “I Am A Man” screenplay.

Troy, who is part Chiricahua Apache, said he spent the last decade developing the Standing Bear project and gaining support of Native American leaders, who also are enthusiastic about sharing the Standing Bear legacy.

‘Needs to be told’

Judi gaiashkibos, a member of the Ponca Tribe and executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, called the international partnership between Troy and Sheridan yet “another sign of how this crosses cultural and national boundaries.”

She added, “We look forward to watching the project evolve into a major motion picture.”

It’s a story, said Troy, that “needs to be told.”

“Standing Bear has been completely left out of our school textbooks,” he said. “Traveling the country I learned that even Native people are unfamiliar with his name and the impact he had on their lives. “

The Standing Bear film is to be jointly produced under Troy Entertainment and Sheridan’s Ireland-based Hell’s Kitchen Ltd., along with producers Luca Matrundola and executive Paul Green (of “Passion of the Christ”).

Executive producers are former Nebraska State Sens. Colby Coash and Burke Harr, along with Warren Anzalone and Bart Daly.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.