3/15/2012 - North Carolina stars in "The Hunger Games"
You've devoured the trilogy. You've watched the trailers. You've joined the fan clubs and already are camping outside the movie theater for tickets. Once you actually see the first installation of "The Hunger Games," which hits theaters March 23, what's left for a die-hard fan to do? How about a pilgrimage to "District 12"?
Not the real one, of course, but the moonshine-soaked hills of western North Carolina, where "The Hunger Games" - which promises to be the biggest film of the year - was filmed during three grueling months last summer.
Based on the young adult novel by the same name, 'The Hunger Games" is set in a post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem. The story follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who has been thrust into a televised competition with other young people who must fight to the death.
Already a tourism hot spot, the area offers plenty of activities for fans and non-fans alike.
Once you get there you can sleep in the same Asheville hotel as Jennifer Lawrence (who plays Katniss Everdeen) and the rest of her co-stars. Or take a swig of the same local kombucha tea that Woody Harrelson fell in love with on set. You might want to visit DuPont State Forest's majestic waterfalls to see where some of the movie's most climactic scenes were filmed. And don't forget to satisfy your cravings for Appalachian moonshine, craft beer and pulled pork at some of the state's finest establishments along the way.
Fly direct on United Airlines from Houston to Asheville, the quaint Appalachian hippie town where "The Hunger Games" cast retired after long days of filming in the woods. The characters in the movie may have adopted a nomadic warrior diet, but that doesn't mean you have to. A plethora of local breweries have garnered Asheville the moniker "Beer Town USA" in recent years. The city also is home to an evolving "slow food" movement that draws from hundreds of farms in the region.
Strolling through downtown, you'll find no shortage of sophisticated and delicious local fare, vegetarian and otherwise. Don't let the tie-dye fool you, this mountain refuge is home to a thriving entrepreneurial spirit that is constantly reinventing itself through a combination of food, music and art. Then again, the town hosts a weekly drum circle every Friday night in Pritchard Park. It's attended by everyone from piccolo-selling wood nymphs to straight-laced lawyers. Although I didn't get a chance to see it myself, locals told me the sound of this patchouli-soaked affair spreads across town like the sound of a mighty, pulsing human heart.
Perhaps my favorite restaurant in Asheville is 12 Bones Smokehouse (12bones.com), located in the River Arts District, an industrial slice of town turned bougie base camp, where local galleries, breweries and bands have set up shop over the last decade. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you the pulled pork sandwich, doused in jalapeno barbecue sauce with a side of cheese grits, might be the best thing I've ever eaten. How good is this North Carolina fixture? Good enough for the commander in chief, it turns out. President Obama has eaten here twice in recent years.
And if you like kombucha, Asheville is your kinda town. Consider this non-alcoholic, healthy brew the yin to Asheville's beer-happy yang. It seems like everyone here is brewing the tangy stuff at home or they know someone who is. Don't forget to try Buchi (drinkbuchi.com), the first female-owned kombucha brewery whose products were enthusiastically embraced by Woody Harrelson during his stint in town.
'The Hunger Games'
What: Based on the best-seller by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games" stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as teens fighting for survival in a government-controlled world that hosts annual televised games in which young participants are forced to kill their opponents.
When: It opens in theaters March 23.
More information: thehungergamesmovie.com/
Out and about
What do you do if you find yourself in nature's unforgiving grasp, "Hunger Games"-style? Use what you've got. "We teach people to work with the resources they have at their disposal," said Jono Bryant, who teaches survival techniques at the Nantahala Wilderness Survival School (noc.com/noccom/outdoor-school/wilderness-survival-school), using his deep voice and British accent to make me believe he knew what he was talking about. "We stress preparedness and how to deal with 'what if' scenarios." About 1,000 students pass through this school every year in two-day to one-week classes, where they learn everything from animal tracking to identifying medicinal plants.
Another must see? DuPont State Forest (dupontforest.com), which, because of its exquisite natural beauty, has served as the set for a number of films over the years, including "The Last of the Mohicans."
"Over the years we've had people who have been injured reenacting things from 'The Last of the Mohicans,' " said assistant forest supervisor Bruce MacDonald. "(Things) that didn't actually happen in the film." (He was referring to several intoxicated individuals who allegedly attempted to recreate the climactic scene where Daniel Day-Lewis' character jumps into a waterfall to escape some indigenous hooligans in hot pursuit. Cut to Day-Lewis plummeting into an enormous waterfall - incidentally one that doesn't exist in North Carolina. The park's actual waterfall is much smaller and results in one's body tumbling down a rocky escarpment in a decidedly non-Mohican-like fashion, and apparently with no orchestral music playing in the background.) Nevertheless, for "Hunger Games," the forest's cascading waterfalls served as backdrops for action during competition in the Arena and are easily accessed on nature trails. They make for great photo-opps, and the whole place is just darn pretty.
True fans must visit Shelby (cityofshelby.com), the tiny North Carolina community where the "reaping" scenes were filmed. Be warned, however, that there isn't much to do, aside from strolling downtown and grabbing a bite to eat at Pleasant City Wood Fired Grill (also a cast favorite). It seems like everyone around here has signed a contract demanding their silence about the film. If you can make your way to the warehouses where the reaping scenes were filmed on the edge of downtown, you can still find carts full of coal from the set. The entire area appears to have been reclaimed for industrial purposes, giving it more of a blue-collar feel than a cinematic one. But it also makes for another cool photo opp, assuming you can crop out the county jail, which squeezes up against the former set.
Some other favorite spots include Laughing Seed (laughingseed.com, jackofthewood.com), another favorite of Harrelson for its top vegetarian fare; Lexington Avenue Brewery (lexavebrew.com), home to creative pub fare, chef-raised beef and local beers; The Southern Kitchen and Bar (southernkitchenandbar.com), where the cast was spotted tasting local brews during their time in Beer City USA; and the Hotel Indigo (hotelindigo.com), a boutique hotel where the actors stayed with their families during filming (no gossip here, though - apparently, the staff loved them and they were on their best behavior throughout).