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Visit where the stars have walked


March 06, 2017

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One of my favorite movies as a kid was the Disney comedy “Snow Dogs,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., of all people. I watched it on a constant loop, so often in fact that I think the tape wore out. Imagine my surprise when I saw the star of my favorite movie riding in a convertible being pulled by a film truck right through the middle of my hometown. Cuba was there to film scenes from his 2003 film, “The Fighting Temptions,” alongside Beyoncé. Needless to say, I found this brief brush with Hollywood exhilarating.

Over the years, chances like that have increased. Georgia, and specifically metro-Atlanta, is quickly becoming a treasure trove of locations for any movie or TV buff. From “The Walking Dead” to “Stranger Things,” many directors have decided to take advantage of Georgia’s incredible geographical diversity. With huge productions like “The Hunger Games,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers” franchises selecting the Atlanta area as prime real estate for the silver screen, Georgia is cementing its status as the “Hollywood of the East.”

Popular film franchises like “The Walking Dead” have sparked fan tours or even restaurants like Mystic Grill in Covington, Georgia in the wake of the teen drama “The Vampire Diaries,” which filmed in Covington, Loganville and Monroe throughout my high school years. Walton County as a whole and its county seat Monroe are becoming increasingly popular with filmmakers. It has been the location for two films released in 2012: “Wanderlust,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and “American Reunion,” the fourth film in the “American Pie” franchise. This particular film necessitated the painting of a mural on the side of a local furniture store advertising the (fictional) falls of “Great Falls, Michigan” where the movie is set. Monroe, proud of its selection as a big budget movie set, decided to leave the mural up after filming, though some edits have been made to ease confusion. More recently Monroe, and specifically its historic courthouse, was chosen to play a key role in 2016’s Academy Award winning film, “Hidden Figures.”

The film tells the story of three of the female African-American mathematicians employed by NASA in the early 60s and the challenges they faced in a male dominated and racially segregated environment. One of the movie’s key scenes, in which Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monae) petitions a court for the right to take evening classes at an all-white school in order to earn an engineering degree, was filmed at Monroe’s courthouse. Though the building played a small part in an important film, I couldn’t help feeling a swell of hometown pride at the fact that it was included at all.

All of this attention from film companies looking for the prime example of a historic small town has had an amazing effect helping to revitalize the fading downtown. It’s been exciting to watch more and more local businesses set up shop in Monroe’s historic buildings. Southern Roots Outfitters has moved in across the street from The Wayfarer Hotel, a boutique hotel where guests can spend the night in a beautifully restored 1910 building with event space and within walking distance of various restaurants. Among restaurants like Butcher Block Grill and Amici’s, local spots shine. Kaity’s Downtown is a favorite and, according to my hairdresser, their fried green tomatoes are a necessary addition to any order. Or check out The Cotton Café for pancakes and coffee, burgers and Georgia-brewed craft beers, and live music and trivia nights on the weekends. A new addition to the beautiful tree-lined downtown is The Story Shop. Though geared toward actual children, this creatively designed bookshop appeals to the child in all of us. I, a grown woman and a generally reserved person, crawled inside the to-scale Hobbit hole and climbed through the coats hanging in the wardrobe and emerged into Narnia (well, the Narnia themed reading room, anyway) giggling with delight the entire time. Additionally, the old cotton mill just down the street from downtown has been repurposed as a 55,000 square-foot antique store with everything from knickknacks to salvaged lumber.

 

This vibrant history is a major factor in what is drawing filmmakers to Walton County. Maybe it’s enough to draw you – especially when the chances of spotting your favorite star like I did as a child are growing every day.


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