Who can resist a day at the movies in a dark, air-conditioned theater in the sultry month of August? For more than a decade, I have spent the early days of August at the Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso. In 2008, the Plaza Classic Film Festival launched with the 1942 classic Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on the 44- by 20-foot screen in the newly restored and renovated Plaza Theatre. The festival continues this year with another 90 or more classic films. The 12th annual Plaza Classic Film Festival runs August 1 – 11, presenting great movies, special guests, concerts, art exhibitions, film talks, discussions, parties, and more. An outing for classic movies often is an allday into late night film marathon. Naturally, I break for lunch, dinner, or a cocktail along the way.
Early in June, when the schedule of films is released, I select the films I must see from the website plazaclassic.com. I usually purchase tickets in advance (easily accomplished by calling or visiting the box office), since some of the most popular films may sell out — as did Casablanca on the first festival night. You also can purchase tickets at Ticketmaster.com, Ticketmaster outlets, the Ticketmaster app or by phone, 800-7453000.
There are no service charges when you purchase tickets at the Plaza Theatre box office; there are service charges when you buy them online, by phone, mobile app, or at other locations. VIP night — first night of the festival — is a fundraiser for the festival; tickets are $20. Individual film tickets range from $6 to $10. Festival passes includes invitations to meet the guest stars and other special events, plus attendance for all movies. There are a limited number of teen passes at $100 for students in a high school film club or with an interest in films. Festival passes are available for $200 by clicking the link on the Tickets & Passes tab or calling 915-533-4020. Doug Pullen, program director of the Plaza Classic Film Festival for the El Paso Community Foundation, and his advisory committee select films, often crafting several themes that thread through films selected and presented. Each year’s selections also include some local films, including presenting the film chosen for the Local Flavor Awards, which is sponsored by the Texas Film Commission. Plaza Classic Film Festival A day at the movies An image from 2001: A Space Odyssey , a new digital restoration of which will be shown August 4.
Pullen announced this year’s festival also includes a tribute to Las Cruces writer and film director Mark Medoff during the opening night VIP event and by presenting several of his films. Since this year is the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, the theme “One Giant Leap” surveys space exploration. The films are varied, from a Bond movie to documentaries and art house films to popular blockbusters. In addition, New Mexico’s Wonders on Wheels mobile museum will be at the Arts Festival Plaza on August 9. Their current exhibition, “A Galaxy of Wonders,” is drawn from items loaned by the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Pullen said, “1969 was a pivotal year in U.S. culture.” He names events such as Woodstock, the lunar landing, the Vietnam War, and Nixon’s presidency. The committee chose several films to reflect the events of that era. “The Disney film The Love Bug may seem a surprising choice,” Pullen said.
He then points out this family film reflected what was going on in society’s culture at the time, such as the influence of the flower power counterculture. This year’s festival also includes several 1939 classics such as The Wizard of Oz and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The 1954 version of A Star is Born with Judy Garland and James Mason is one of several musicals that made it to the program for Musical Monday and throughout the festival, along with Top Hat and On the Town. Jacques Demy musicals The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg are included in the film lineup.
These films directly influenced La La Land, a recent musical that concludes the festival. The festival brings in film industry authorities. Victoria Riskin, the daughter of actress Fay Wray and screenwriter Robert Riskin, will be at the festival August 6 and 7 to introduce the 1933 film King Kong. She is a television writer and producer and has recently published a memoir of her parents.
I arrive at the theater early to snag my favorite seat in the balcony and to hear the musicians play the restored Wyler Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ before each film screening. I took a reconnaissance trip to El Paso in May. The new El Paso Streetcars expand options for parking and dining in downtown El Paso. While parking often is available near the Plaza Theatre, the streetcar allows visitors to park at the Glory Road Transit Center near the University of Texas at El Paso. The renovated, historic streetcars travel two connecting loops, which include a loop in downtown El Paso and an extended loop from UTEP to downtown. The half hour trip costs $1.50 and drops off visitors within a block of the Plaza. For a map of the route and more information, visit epstreetcar.com. Several of my favorite restaurants, which are a bit of a walk from the theater, would be more easily accessible by streetcar — as long as time permits. Tabla ($$) serves small plates of European fare with excellent crafted cocktails. Or opt for Pot au Feu ($$) for an excellent charcuterie and cheese platter with wine, beouf bourguignon, or a Reuben sandwich. For the budget conscious or lighter fare, consider the Craft and Social ($) with its selection of beers, wines, and pub fare.
If budget and/or time are a concern, cross the street to the San Jacinto Plaza to La Placita Café for burgers, tacos, or salads. Just outside the Plaza Theatre is Anson 11, which has a bistro and fine dining. The Mills Building adjacent to the theatre features a Starbucks and a few other small establishments for cookies, ice cream, and drinks. “People are here to have an experience or to enjoy the theatrical setting,” Pullen said. Pullen observed that viewing a vintage film on a massive screen in a classic movie theater is an “immersive experience.”
Written by Jackye Meinecke