On the website for the town of Hildebran, N.C., an area about an hour outside of Charlotte, there’s a slogan that reads, “We brag a little… it’s our town.” Soon, Hildebran’s citizens might have something more to boast about: According to local officials, the small town (its population is less than 2,000) is being transformed into the country of Panem for the big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.
While Lionsgate won’t confirm that Hildebran is, in fact, one of the locations for Hunger Games, there does appear to be evidence (including a casting call sent to residents) that production is getting underway there (see a map of the location below). Ella Caudle, Hildebran’s town clerk, tells EW that the town had been scouted as a filming location for the movie earlier this month and that a portion of Henry River Road, a main artery in the area, was scheduled to be closed down from May 18 until May 26 for shooting. Sharon McBrayer, a writer who penned an article about the movie coming to her town for Hildebran’s local paper, the Hickory Daily Record, tells EW that shooting of Hunger Games is supposedly taking place in an abandoned village in the area called Henry Mill River Village. While McBrayer notes that no one from the cast or crew has yet been spotted, she did say that security guards are at the site. Not a bad idea, considering that residents have already showed up to see if they could catch a glimpse of Hunger Games stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, and Liam Hemsworth. (EW contacted the Burke County Sheriff’s office, who said they were not at liberty to speak to speak about Hunger Games filming in the area).
But what exactly are fans of the Hunger Games books looking at in Hildebran? Could Henry River Mill Village be the location for District 12? From images found on the web of the abandoned area (including on the Facebook fan page for Henry River Mill Village), the small ghost town — which had its own general store (a possible site for The Hob or even the bakery?) — could transform effortlessly to the ravaged, poor district that inhabits, among other major Hunger Games characters, Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. As McBrayer told EW, “People are saying it seems to be a perfect site for District 12.” In fact, on the HRMV Facebook page, fans have also said that a “pastry sign” was seen on a village storefront, where a tree was also placed. (Mr. Mellark’s shop, perhaps?)
All these details have Hildebran’s proud citizens buzzing. Debbie Hildebran, a town resident who married into the Hildebran family and is currently enjoying The Hunger Games on her Kindle, tells EW, “I have been riding by the area often to see all the preparations they are doing for the movie and each time I [see it I] get more excited.”
Helen Harmon Ismail, another Hildebran resident, will have even closer ties to the movie — she was cast as an extra in the film. While Islmail wasn’t sure who she’ll be playing, she said a fitting has been scheduled for Saturday in Shelby N.C. “I’ll know my filming location and more about my character then,” she said. “I’m looking forward to see how the story is brought to life.”
Of course, not everyone in the region is thrilled with the prospect of a big production filming in a small town. On the HRMV Facebook page, someone posted that the reported three-mile road detour on the scheduled-to-be-closed Henry River Road will “be a hassle of epic proportions for some of us.” Another worried resident wrote, “I’m actually really scared that the town’s integrity is going to be compromised,” adding, “It’s always been my favorite road, and I’m scared it’ll be permanently altered after all this.”
Still, most residents and members of Town Hall in Hildebran seem to be looking forward to the affiliation with Hunger Games and how it could benefit the area. Donna Teasley, a consumer horticultural agent working with the Hildebran Farmer’s Market (which will be open during Hunger Games filming) said, “People will put up with a closed road if it means increased spending in the area.”
In fact, the effect is already starting to be felt: Sunny O’Connell, a manager at the Barnes & Noble in Hickory, N.C. (a town about five miles outside of Hildebran), said she’s noticed “a steady increase” in sales of the dystopian series. And while Teasley notes that the area hasn’t completely turned into a busy Hollywood hub just yet (“It’s been low key so far… nobody knows what to expect”), most residents are “curious and excited” about the movie. Join the club.