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Plaza Classic Film Festival gaining popularity

Photo courtesy of Art Contreras
Plaza Theatre

The Plaza Classic Film Festival graced the streets of downtown once again with films for the ­­ninth year in a row, from Aug. 4-14. The variety of films ranged from productions such as “Giant,” “Apocalypse Now” and the “Star Wars” trilogy to obscure gems of cinema like “The Night of the Hunter” and “Orpheus.”

This year the film festival expanded its outdoor screenings with “Pink Floyd’s The Wall”, “Mamma Mia” and the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The Plaza Classic Film Festival brings a new flavor to the summer as it approaches its end.

According to Eric Pearson, the president of the El Paso Community Foundation, which hosts the festival, more than 40,000 people attended the festival, 15 percent coming from out of town.

Besides bringing hours of entertainment, the festival also generates around $1.5 to 2 million in revenue for the local economy every year. This year’s biggest turnouts were for “Giant,” the western film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, followed by “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

Each year the film festival collaborates with the surrounding museums to promote their films. The History Museum featured a display on the making of Giant” with costumes, a copy of the script and pictures from behind the scenes. But the biggest attraction was the guest of honor, Mexican actress Elsa Cardenas, who played Juana Villalobos Benedict in “Giant.”

Besides collaborating with the History Museum, the festival also worked with the Art Museum to display a series of other surreal films such as Luis Bunuel’sThe Exterminating Angel,” Jean Cocteau’s “Orpheus” and David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”

Following previous years, the festival was able to present a well-balanced repertoire that appealed to all kinds of movie fans.

What has also managed to grow is the Local Flavor section, which displays local films. What began as a one-day slot for local films in previous years has now expanded into three days, showcasing more than 50 local short films.

Perhaps what distinguishes this year’s festival from the previous ones is the addition of “Star Wars.” Doug Pullen, the program director of the film festival, shared with a packed house how they were granted the rights to show the movie. It took an honest, pleading letter to Lucas Films about the film festival and its importance to The El Paso community.

The success of that letter makes El Paso the only city in the nation to receive the rights to display the movie in a festival. This event is just an example of the work that the El Paso Community Foundation does for the city.

Andres Gallegos may be reached at [email protected]

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Plaza Classic Film Festival gaining popularity