Eric Pearson, executive vice president of the El Paso Community Foundation, and local businessman and film buff Charles Horak convinced movie studios, business underwriters and, most importantly, the public that a world-class classic film festival could work here, in El Paso, Texas. They envisioned a festival of classic films and outdoor movies in their own historic town.
They were so right.
Pearson says 31,700 people -- enough to fill more than half Sun Bowl Stadium -- flocked to see films such as "Casablanca," "The Wizard of Oz," "Giant" and "The Exorcist" during last August's The Movies Return, a 10-day classic film festival at the Plaza.
Now it's back with a new name, the Plaza Classic Film Festival, a new Web site (www.plazaclassicfilmfestival.com
), more offerings (including "Gone With the Wind" and "Lawrence of Arabia") and the addition of a third "screen," the Arts Festival Plaza, which joins the Plaza and Philanthropy theaters as the festival's main venues. The Arts Festival Plaza is a unique outdoor cinema and has proved extremely popular with the citizens of El Paso. The outdoor films are an exciting opportunity to experience the community and nostalgia of the old drive-in movie theaters. The organizers of the event have dubbed these movies under the stars as "walk-in" movies.
The event, which is produced by the El Paso Community Foundation, has a $200,000 budget this year. "One hundred percent of it is programming," says Pearson, who doesn't draw a salary for it, nor does Horak, its artistic director.
"It is a huge cultural event for El Paso," Pearson says proudly, "and it is among the largest arts-oriented events presented locally to the region. The social, educational and community benefits are big. It allows us to not say: 'Pretty good ... for El Paso.' It's really good, no matter where you go."
We popped him a few questions about the festival, which returns Aug. 6-16.
Why did you want to start an annual classic film festival at the Plaza Theatre?
When the El Paso Community Foundation and the City of El Paso completed the Plaza Theatre in 2006, everyone asked, "When are you going to show movies?" The foundation decided to give to the facility a state-of-the-art 35mm and digital cinema system, so the next question to ourselves was, "What is our first movie going to be?"
Charles Horak, who is an incredibly knowledgeable movie critic and a tremendous volunteer, narrowed it down to 100 or so titles, but we struggled to pick "the" movie to show. We decided that a film festival was the way to go, and it had to have something for everyone.
We initially thought of it in terms of a five-year commitment to see if it would fly, and we were soaring in our first year. The people of El Paso blew us away. More than 30,000 people attended, and it suddenly became a tangible long-term commitment. Also, thanks to dozens of generous sponsorships from El Paso businesses and individuals, who helped keep the ticket prices at $2, $4, or $6 (if they weren't free).
Were you surprised by the turnout for the first festival last year?
There are so many people who have fond memories of the Plaza Theatre from its heyday -- sneaking in, kisses on the balcony, Uncle Roy Chapman's "Kiddie Kollege," and more. I have truly heard more than 10,000 stories from people who love the theater. We knew the appeal of classic movies was there, and we had an inkling that it would be successful, but last year's attendance at "Casablanca" to kick off the festival was the first of many pleasant surprises. Seeing 2,000 people lined up outside and around the block was pretty emotional for Charles and me.
What changes are you making this year and why?
This year, we are showing more movies -- 73 right now -- in the Kendle Kidd Performance Hall of the Plaza Theatre, the Philanthropy Theatre and we have added outdoor "walk-in" (as opposed to drive-in) movies in the Arts Festival Plaza. Some great concerts will keep people entertained outside until dark, and then we'll be showing great summer outdoor cinema.
Inside, we will have some amazing films, and we'll keep the schedule a little looser to allow for people to get in and get out more conveniently. We will expand the film talks prior to the screenings, and we are doing more education for kids and people who want to make movies. We are doing a few more local films, and working with some other wonderful Downtown events to make this a marquee event in El Paso and the region.
What are some of the movies and supplemental programs you're excited about this year?
We are really excited at the quality of the films we have booked. We have at least three celebrity guests already on the hook, and we have some wonderful local projects we are tracking. We are working on expanding the outreach and educational programs for youth as well, but the films will be the draw. I could say more about the film titles, but I'll refer you to the Web site, www.plazaclassicfilmfestival.com
. We are slowly revealing our line-up through contests. If you can guess, you can win tickets. Our first winner guessed "Lawrence of Arabia," "Gone With the Wind," "Chinatown" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" -- and we're just getting started.
Source: "Plaza Theatre film fest's impressive 1st year inspires organizers" by Doug Pullen -The El Paso Times. Read full article at: http://www.elpasotimes.com/newupdated/ci_12079597