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July 1, 2012

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Our beautiful mountain geography; our small, charming, sometimes frozen-in-time towns; our warm welcome; our reasonable prices for things. They’re all part of what brings Hollywood to the Blue Ridge region – to make documentaries, commercials, features and even blockbusters like “The Hunger Games,” which was filmed in large part in Western North Carolina.

“It’s pure confidence,” she says. “It’s just that simple movement of letting go.”

I am holding a bow and arrow, and “confidence” is not the word that comes to mind. The arrow wavers, falls off the string; my hands shake – when I finally get some arrows in the air, they fall short of the target, fly past it into the grassy hillside, or bounce off it, hardly lethal. One finally sticks. No one would mistake me for a post-apocalyptic teenager out in the woods aiming for rabbits, or – the central premise of “The Hunger Games,” a trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins, and now a film from Lionsgate, filmed in western North Carolina  – teenagers.

Tammy Hopkins, executive director of the Transylvania Community Arts Council in Brevard, N.C., is my patient teacher. She is also an actor, director, producer and co-founder, with Leigh Trapp, of Hunger Games Fan Tours – and a pretty decent archer.

At this moment, we’re standing high above Brevard, on the 83-acre property of Earthshine Mountain Lodge, which is hosting just-launched Hunger Games-inspired experiences – day trips and adventure weekends where visitors can tour film sites and learn some of the skills the tributes used to survive (or not) the fictional Hunger Games – fire-starting, shelter-building, slingshot, archery (which has been rising in popularity). Those signing up for the full weekend enjoy meals inspired by the story, see re-enactments of film scenes, and on Sunday participate in their own Games – for points.

Haven’t read the books or seen the movie? “The Hunger Games” is set in a dystopian, future America, where the population has been divided into districts. Civilization as we know it is no more – there are allusions to a nuclear disaster sometime in the past, and the remade society’s been divided into districts, ruled over by the materialistic, wealthy citizens of the Capitol (somewhere out in the Rocky Mountains). Nearly 75 years back, the poorer districts rebelled, and they’ve been punished – each district must send two young people, tributes, every year, to participate in the Hunger Games, an overhyped, sponsored and live-broadcast fight to the death. One young person survives, and lives the rest of his or her life in bitter luxury.

District 12 is coal-mining country – Appalachia – and it’s not had a champion in years. Its tributes, the bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and baker’s-son Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are the heroes of book and film.

And because the movie was filmed in the general area in which much of the books are set, it’s even bigger news for our region. North Carolina hosted cast and crew, and the filmmakers spent about $60 million in the state while working on the film, a good chunk of the $220 million spent overall in 2011 by film production in the state – a record for North Carolina.

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July 1, 2012

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