Filming movie overseas irks some in N.C.

Despite story set in state, producers chose Romania to film `Cold Mountain'

December 26, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. - The real Cold Mountain rises 6,030 feet above sea level here in western North Carolina, a rugged peak clad in mountain laurel and huckleberries and, in winter, towering, leafless trees.

Its Hollywood double is in Romania.

The movie Cold Mountain opens nationwide today amid critical acclaim and high hopes from a studio that gambled more than $80 million on the production. Set mainly in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the 1860s but filmed in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, Cold Mountain recounts the pilgrimage of a wounded Confederate deserter who slogs across North Carolina toward the promise of a lover waiting in the hills.

The movie's debut stirs a blend of contradictions among those who live near the real mountain.

People such as Frank Sorrells, a 75-year-old retired teacher who farms 33 acres at the base of Cold Mountain, do not understand why a movie set in Cold Mountain, N.C., was filmed in the Romanian province of Transylvania.

"It don't seem right," he says.

Key players in North Carolina's burgeoning moviemaking industry say they worked for five years with the film's director, Anthony Minghella, and his crew, scouting locations around the mountains. Seventy-eight feature films and television shows were filmed in the Tarheel state in 2002, generating $231 million in revenue, and the industry has grown so quickly that various estimates rank North Carolina third in revenue from film production, behind California and New York.

Having Cold Mountain filmed in the state would have provided a big boost, says Bill Arnold, the state's film commissioner. Actors, camera operators and crew members would have spent money in local hotels and restaurants. Producers might have hired local carpenters and hairstylists.

Arnold says contacts at the movie's production company, Miramax, told him they chose Romania mainly because it costs much less to film in Eastern Europe than in western North Carolina.

Also, Arnold says, rural Romania shows fewer signs of modern life, such as telephone poles, power lines and paved roads, and it boasts guaranteed snowfall - a must for the movie's climactic scenes. A few inches of snow blanketed Cold Mountain last week, but snow is inconsistent and unpredictable in North Carolina's mountains.

As for wounded pride, the film commissioner acknowledges that it stings to see a story that is set in the southern Appalachians - a story with a North Carolina peak in its very title - filmed overseas. Yet Arnold tempers his indignation, noting that roughly 95 percent of 600 feature films and countless television shows made in North Carolina since 1980 were set elsewhere.

He ticks off examples: Directors shot Last of the Mohicans in western North Carolina even though the story is set in upstate New York and Canada. Hollywood filmed Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood in Wilmington, even though it is set in a rural parish in Louisiana. The TV show Dawson's Creek, set in Massachusetts, also was filmed in Wilmington.

Though some disgruntled locals talk of boycotting the movie, business owners near the real Cold Mountain figure only knowledgeable moviegoers will realize or care that the mountains on film are not in North Carolina. There is no town of Cold Mountain, but the movie could lure tourists to places such as nearby Waynesville.

Before the 1997 publication of the novel Cold Mountain, by North Carolina native Charles Frazier, only bear hunters and hikers cared much about the mountain. The book, which won a National Book Award and spent more than 30 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, generated a modest increase in tourism, but businesses expect more as a result of the movie, starring Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Jude Law.

Already it has drawn Bill Park, a 51-year-old agricultural economics professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and his son, Daniel, 21, a student at Clemson University.

They drove Monday from Knoxville to Waynesville, followed N.C. 276 south for a few miles, turned onto a winding two-lane mountain road and stopped at last after the pavement ended just beyond the entrance to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp.

To the left loomed the trail up Cold Mountain, in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area of Pisgah National Forest, roughly 25 miles southwest of Asheville.

Rangers warn against ascending Cold Mountain without a map and compass. It's a steep and strenuous 10.4-mile round-trip hike on an unmarked trail of mud, rocks and tree roots.

Roger and Judy Winge, who left metro Atlanta in 1998 to open a 1920s-themed bed-and-breakfast in Waynesville called October Hill, say they plan to offer a "Cold Mountain" package providing guests a picnic basket, a copy of the novel and directions to the mountain.

"To have a movie of this magnitude could put this area on the map," Judy Winge says.

But someone close to the real history behind the movie has little use for all the hype.

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