Fans hun­gry for N.C. film lo­cales

Want to see places in the movie

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY MARTHA WAG­GONER

FRALEIGH, N.C. ans of “The Hunger Games” al­ready are turn­ing up in North Carolina, seek­ing out places where the movie was shot, from old-growth forests to an aban­doned mill town.

And the tourism in­dus­try is pre­pared to cash in on them, with ev­ery­thing from ho­tel pack­ages and zip-line tours, to re-en­act­ments of scenes from the film and lessons in sur­vival skills.

The movie, which opens Fri­day and is ex­pected to be a box­of­fice smash, is based on a best­selling book about a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world where teenagers com­pete to the death in fight­ing games.

It was filmed en­tirely in North Carolina, from the moun­tains, where fake trees were planted, filled with propane and blown up, to Char­lotte, which served as the Capi­tol from the story — the seat of power where the teens are sent for train­ing.

Also promi­nently fea­tured in the movie is the Henry River Mill Vil­lage near Hilde­bran, about 70 miles from Asheville, which was the set­ting for Dis­trict 12, home of the three main char­ac­ters, Kat­niss, Peeta and Gale.

Although the mill burned down in 1977, the 20-plus re­main­ing build­ings, in­clud­ing the com­pany store, make it look like a ghost town.

The vil­lage is pri­vate prop­erty, and the lo­cal sher­iff’s depart­ment is work­ing with pri­vate se­cu­rity guards to keep peo­ple away, con­cerned about li­a­bil­ity if some­one gets hurt.

But fans are al­ready com­ing. “I’m get­ting too many vis­i­tors,” said the prop­erty owner, Wade Shep­herd, 83, who hasn’t read “The Hunger Games.”

“Day and night, they’re driv­ing through, tak­ing pic­tures, get­ting out and walk­ing. I’m just bom­barded with peo­ple.”

North Carolina’s trees also f ig­ure promi­nently in the movie. At first, pine trees tall enough to suit the film­mak­ers’ needs couldn’t be found. But Pam Lewis, film com­mis­sioner in the western part of the state when Lionsgate, the film com­pany, was scop­ing out lo­ca­tions, found a 22,000-acre for­est of old-growth trees in Asheville’s wa­ter­shed, and that’s where the movie’s arena scenes were filmed. The public isn’t al­lowed in this pro­tected wa­ter­shed area, but plenty of other forests are open to vis­i­tors.

Film­mak­ers spent more than $60 mil­lion on “The Hunger Games” in North Carolina, and em­ployed about 5,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing stars, ex­tras and crews, mak­ing it the largest movie ever made here. Other fa­mous movies filmed in the state in­clude “Dirty Danc­ing,” “The Last of the Mo­hi­cans” and “Bull Durham.”

“The Hunger Games” is based on the first book from au­thor Suzanne Collins’ best­selling tril­ogy. It’s about a fu­tur­is­tic world in which North Amer­ica has been di­vided into

12 dis­tricts. Ev­ery year, a teenage boy and girl (known as tributes) are sent from each dis­trict to the op­u­lent Capi­tol, where they’re trained to fight un­til only one is left alive.

The state Di­vi­sion of Tourism has de­signed a four-day self-guided tour for fans of the movie. The first day in­cludes stops at the Henry River Mill Vil­lage plus places where the stars hung out in Asheville. Next on the itin­er­ary is Dupont State Re­cre­ational For­est near Brevard where the arena scenes were f ilmed, fol­lowed by Shelby, where reap­ing scenes — where the tributes are cho­sen — were shot in pri­vate ware­house space. A final day in Char­lotte in­cludes the Blu­men­thal Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter’s Knight The­ater, where in­ter­view scenes with the teenage tributes were filmed.

For more ad­ven­tur­ous vis­i­tors, a com­pany called Hunger Games Fan Tours of­fers day and week­end trips to wa­ter­falls and other spots in Tran­syl­va­nia County. As part of the tour, ac­tors re-en­act some of the scenes shot there, and guests are served food de­scribed in the story. Par­tic­i­pants also learn sur­vival skills such as archery, cam­ou­flage, fire-build­ing, how to use a sling­shot and how to walk qui­etly in the for­est. The tour even in­cludes a com­pe­ti­tion — only in­stead of the loser dy­ing, the win­ner gets a prize.

Prices are $79 for the day tour, or $389 for the week­end trip, with an overnight stay and a night­time zip-line ride in homage to the char­ac­ters who jumped through trees. The tour will take guests to Triple Falls, where the char­ac­ter Peeta (Josh Hutch­er­son) hides af­ter he’s in­jured, and to the woods around Bridal Veil Falls, where fake trees ex­ploded and the jacket worn by Kat­niss (Jen­nifer Lawrence) catches fire.

But vis­i­tors can’t run across Triple Falls like Kat­niss does in the movie — she was at­tached to wires and ran on a board. “That’s not to be done by hu­man be­ings,” said Tammy Hop­kins, coowner of Hunger Games Fan Tours and di­rec­tor of the county arts coun­cil.

Asheville is of­fer­ing pack­age deals in part­ner­ship with lo­cal busi­nesses. Pro­mo­tions in­clude a “Walk Like a Kat­niss Everdeen” pack­age that com­bines a stay at Cum­ber­land Falls Bed and Break­fast Inn with hik­ing at Chim­ney Rock State Park, and “The Capi­tol Ex­pe­ri­ence” at Grand Bo­hemian Ho­tel, where the big­gest ad­ven­ture is a hot­stone mas­sage.

Of all the lo­ca­tions, the Henry River Mill Vil­lage has a back­story that’s nearly as col­or­ful as the plot of the movie. The mill, which opened in 1905, pro­duced fine yarn, and the vil­lage was de­signed as a planned com­mu­nity with com­pany stores, walk­ways and green spa­ces. In 1966, a sher­iff was shot and killed in the vil­lage by a mill worker. By the time Mr. Shep­herd bought the town, three years af­ter the mill closed, there were Thurs­day night poker games on the street, “and by Sun­day af­ter­noon, they were all drunk and shoot­ing,” he said.

Mr. Shep­herd lives across the river from the town, and said he bought the prop­erty “to pro­tect my in­ter­ests.” He doesn’t think he could make enough money to open a tourist at­trac­tion, though he’s con­sid­er­ing a re­quest to let a tour com­pany bring a group through.

In the mean­time, he’s put the whole place — 72 acres — up for sale for $1.4 mil­lion. Po­ten­tial buy­ers won­der­ing about the real life-and-death sto­ries that once un­folded here need only look at the Coca-cola sign in front of the com­pany store, which has a shot­gun hole in it.

“This is bet­ter than the movie, isn’t it?” Mr. Shep­herd asked.

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