Cold, gray, and rainy—you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to step into the dystopian world of The Hunger Games. Atlanta Movie Tours is preparing to launch its newest offering, the Girl on Fire tour based on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part I, on February 8. We previewed the adventure recently and learned a little about Atlanta along the way.
Our group departed from Atlanta Movie Tours’ Castleberry Hill office and immediately out the door, we were given our first bit of Hunger Games history courtesy of the nearby Gulch. The area had been used as a large basecamp, and our guide also quickly pointed out the abandoned Norfolk Southern building, which had a brief moment of fame when it was adorned with a large blue screen for Mockingjay Part I’s rappelling scenes. We continued southward, learning about the state of the movie industry in Georgia (spoiler alert, it’s still going strong), passing by the old Atlanta farmers’ market that stood in for District 11 during Catching Fire, and arriving at curious bit of ATL filming history-turned-street art hidden near Adair Park. From behind a sleepy warehouse, we saw “The odds are never in our favor” written exactly as it was during Catching Fire.
We doubled back toward downtown. We passed homes with boarded-up windows and overgrown properties of dubious occupancy. I was reminded of the sign we had just seen, “The odds are never in our favor.” As we drove under I-20, I noticed a small gathering of men keeping warm around a trashcan fire.
Woodruff Park, even on a rainy day at lunch time, is still full of workers, tourists, GSU students, and others going hither and thither. The bus stopped at the polished Marriott Marquis. The hotel lobby, chosen for its unique architecture, is featured prominently in Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part I as the new Tribute Center. Our guide pointed out memorable parts from Catching Fire, including which floor was used as District 12’s quarters (10) and which floor a nude Jena Malone (who played tribute Johanna Mason) walked off the elevator (52, though during one take she mistakenly got off on 51 and ran into a guest).
We returned to the bus and continued traveling up Peachtree. Our guide kept us entertained between stops with stories of filming, Suzanne Collins’ inspiration for the series, and of Jennifer Lawrence being Jennifer Lawrence. (Who knew? J-Law got into a car wreck because she thought she saw Honey Boo Boo.) Our next destination would be The Goat Farm, known to many for its artists and galleries, but to us as District 12. Among the chickens, goats, and creative-types, we found ourselves retracing the very steps Katniss took during her second reaping. We stopped to see where Gale was whipped, where the Hob was burned down, and to admire the coal on the ground, some of which was left after filming.
The bus traversed Northside Drive and into Buckhead’s stately environs to the Swan House, which was used as President Snow’s mansion. At this point, considering the first sites of our tour and what we had seen along the way, driving through Buckhead may very well have been an entirely different world. It’s easy to see why Panem was ripe for rebellion when you can see, just maybe, what it would have been like for Katniss and Peeta to arrive in the Capitol for the very first time.
The Swan House—which is part of the Atlanta History Center—is featured in an AHC Hunger Games package, but most of its features are covered with Atlanta Movie Tours’ Girl on Fire offerings. Aside from viewing the memorabilia preserved by the Atlanta History Center, we were invited into parts of the house reserved for citizens of Panem. Various props, set pieces, script pages, and call sheets have been preserved, as well as President Snow’s desk, which doubles as a wonderful photo op for fans. After mulling about the historic home for 20 minutes, we returned to our bus and began the trek through Midtown and back to Castleberry Hill. Along the way, we were treated to more behind-the-scenes stories and other entertainment that really make the Atlanta Movie Tours worthwhile.
What really stuck with me though was how Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for her books. She had been flipping through TV channels and found seemingly nothing but coverage of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and reality television programs. Hunger Games fans will enjoy seeing the familiar sights and behind-the-scenes insight that Atlanta Movie Tours’ Girl on Fire tour offers, but the eagle-eyed patron will come away with a deeper appreciation for the symbolism in Suzanne Collins’ works. Collins took the name “Panem” for her world from the Latin panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses,” distracting the public by offering entertainment instead of services. Driving through some of the less-traveled parts of Atlanta and then into the core of its wealth really struck a chord with me. It shows that the same divide Collins puts forth in The Hunger Games is also very much alive in the real world.