By Travis Johnson

Right now the International Convention Centre –  Sydney looks like a bomb’s hit it. The funny thing is, it’s intentional. One of the exhibition halls has been transformed into Panem, the post-apocalyptic future America that is the setting for the smash hit YA book and movie series, The Hunger Games.

As far as immersive, interactive experiences go, it’s pretty top notch. You’re greeted first by video of Effie Trinket, Hunger Games spokesperson, who blithely hopes that “The odds are ever in your favour” before her real-life counterpart, actress Elizabeth Banks, introduces the exhibition proper: an impression collection of costumes, props, behind-the-scenes info and artifacts, dioramas and interactive displays drawn from the Lionsgate film series. In a meta-fictional twist, it’s framed as a museum display put together after the events of the films; an interactive audio guide takes you from display to display, organised chronologically, with the narrator putting each in their fictional/historical context.

hunger-2The atmosphere is almost solemn and the background soundtrack, a mix of cues from the score and dialogue samples, helps to ground you in the world of the series. The incredible detail of the items on display takes it further; it’s one thing to see costumes on the screen, but entirely another to be able to see the fine needlework, the patched leather, the scuffed armour plates. There are racks of weapons to pore over, maps and in-universe documents to peruse; The Hunger Games has plenty of fantastical elements, but the fabric of the created universe feels both plausible and tangible here.

Stef Dawson, who played Annie Cresta in the films, first saw the exhibition in New York City and flew in to Sydney to open it’s Australian season. “It was really cool for me to come to my home country and help bring the world of Panem to Australians,” she tells us. “Stepping back into the Hunger Games world will always be such a pleasure for me. It’s such a beautiful and rich world, such a powerful message.”

One of the key items on display is the wedding dress that Dawson wore when her character married Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) in the fourth film, Mockingjay Part 2. It’s a good example for the kind of thought and care that goes into building such a tactile and fully realised onscreen world.

hunger-4“If you look at my wedding dress, the detail in this, it’s so intricate.” Dawson says. “It’s made out of the same material the nurses wore in District 13, as if everyone put their resources together to make the wedding happen in the middle of the war. The veil has these little seashells and pieces, as if everything has come from the ocean District [District 4]. It was really cool to be a part of that and have some influence on the design of it, to help flesh out my character.”

Interestingly, it was Dawson herself who helped inspire the outfit, which differs markedly from the one described in the source novel. “It was designed off this vintage Western slip that I wore into my audition actually, and everyone really loved that and it became the template they designed the dress off of. In the book, Annie wore a green dress that Katniss wore, but you can’t squish everything into a film. And I think this is more poignant – when you’ve got a smaller space of time to illustrate those themes of hope in a dark time, everyone creating a wedding in the midst of war – it is really a symbol of hope.”

The Hunger Games: The Exhibition is on at the International Convention Centre – Sydney until February 5, 2017. For more info, head over to the official site.

 

 

 

 

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