Even as helmer James Cameron is rushing to complete filming on his mega-buck “Titantic,” a group of angry fishermen have made front-page news in the Mexican media by trying to sink the land sale that allowed Fox to build a $25 million movie studio on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific in Popotla, just south of Rosarito.
The assault on the studio was spearheaded by Fernando Larios Zepeda, a leader of the Unidad de Produccion Pescadores Riberenos, a collective of 49 families who live in the picturesque cove tucked beneath the headlands on which the “Titanic” set looms. Larios claims that the land sold to Fox by a private real estate firm actually belonged to the national trust, and that the fishermen had been promised first option.
“We welcome foreign investors,” says Larios, “but they must follow the law.”
Representatives for Fox say that’s exactly what they’ve done. “There’s no truth to the land issue: We have clear title to the land,” says Simon Bax, senior vice president and chief financial officer for 20th Century Fox. “We will work with the Mexican authorities to ensure that the desires of the fishermen are taken into account in any future transactions.”
Hugo Torres Chabert, mayor of Rosarito (and owner of the landmark Rosarito Beach Hotel) calls the fishermen “squatters” and dismisses their claim. “We are getting them out of there. They are on federal property,” he says.
Torres told Variety the studio has brought 300 permanent jobs for local workers and boosted the local economy.
Although Zepeda produced documents to support his claims, history, politics and greed often combine to make clear titles and ownership a murky matter in Mexican land sales.
Only recent changes in Mexico’s laws have allowed 100% direct ownership of land by foreign businesses. Even so, a legal challenge could hurt Fox’s chances of recouping its investment in Baja Studios, which it hopes will attract other productions south of the border. Sources say MGM/UA’s “Bond 18” may move in, once “Titanic” disembarks.