We’ll Always Have the Plaza

Frankly my dear, the Plaza Classic Film Festival is the largest in the world, and for El Pasoans who understand and appreciate the legacy of the Plaza Theatre they know there’s no place like home to watch some of the most treasured films in history. “There’s something about watching a movie in a theater, surrounded by people who can collectively become a living, sentient being that applauds the heroine, laughs when it’s supposed to and cries when the movie touches its heart,” says Eric Pearson, president of the El Paso Community Foundation. This classic film festival acts as an aide-memoire to the Plaza Theatre in its heyday when it was a first-run movie theater showing the likes of Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz.

Inside the Plaza Theatre during last year’s Plaza Classic Film Festival, produced by the El Paso Community Foundation.
Inside the Plaza Theatre during last year’s Plaza Classic Film Festival, produced by the El Paso Community Foundation.

This year, the El Paso Community Foundation has partnered with The El Paso Museum of History to bring the exhibition Frankly My Dear: The Art and Impact of ‘Gone With the Wind’ debuting on July 23. Also, for the fifth straight year, the foundation is teaming up with the El Paso Museum of Art, this time featuring a series of Andy Warhol’s experimental films and Polaroid’s entitled Warhol’s World: Film Screenings and An Art Installation, which will run from August 4 through the 16. In addition, the Plaza Classic Film Festival will feature more than 20 hours of film produced here locally in the borderland.

Every year, the festival features regional bands and artists as well as lectures and book signings by local scholars and authors to ensure everyone finds their niche at the festival. Several new events this summer promise to add more zest and excitement to the festival for young movie lovers in the borderland. Summer Film Camp, taking place August 3 through the 14, will teach youngsters aged 9 to 13 basic skills in film making and cinematography. At the conclusion of the camp, these short films will screen at the Plaza. Throughout the festival, there will be outdoor film screenings cast onto giant inflatable screens for both movie aficionados and newbies of all ages to enjoy all around the historical downtown El Paso area. A special showing of The Natural, a baseball classic from the early 1980s, will also debut on the state-of-the-art HD scoreboard at Southwest University Park, home of the El Paso Chihuahuas.

Showing of Field of Dreams at Southwest University Park
Last year’s Plaza Classic Film Festival showing of Field of Dreams at Southwest University Park.

With all these different events, shows, and films, as one would imagine, it takes hundreds of local volunteers, actors, business owners, and the dedicated team at the El Paso Community Foundation to have a successful festival. “Without all of these people, there would be no festival,” says Doug Pullen, program director for the festival.

“Movies are like time capsules, speaking of the times in which they are made,” says Pullen. “Not only do young people get a chance to see great movies and movie stars from bygone eras, but they get to see how Hollywood wanted us to think or feel about a subject, person or issue. It’s history.” It’s no secret that through many films, especially those that debuted during times of war, that propaganda was spread through the theater. Many classic films contain priceless historical clues and references carefully and artfully woven into the stories. Pearson reminds us that, “the term ‘classic’ really means that the movie had a lasting cultural impact.” These classic films hold a special place, not only in history, but in the hearts of those who watch them. Every year this festival makes us laugh, stirs up wonder, and helps us remember that, although we may not always have Paris, we’ll always have the Plaza Theatre.