The Plaza Classic Film Festival returns with a new format amid COVID-19 concerns

Courtesy+of+Plaza+Film+Festival

Victor Barajas

Courtesy of Plaza Film Festival

Sasha Minjarez, Contributor

Returning for its 13th year amid a global pandemic, the Plaza Classic Film Festival starts today with a hybrid drivein and streaming format to accommodate film lovers across the Sun City amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the unprecedented circumstances that have come with the pandemic, The El Paso Community Foundation Plaza Classic Film Festival is not submitting to a curtain call in 2020 but rather, reconciling with restructuring its conditions, where the show must go on. 

The festival, dubbed the “World’s Largest Classic Film Festival,” established in 2008 by the El Paso Community Foundation, is returning this year under some newly introduced adaptations.    

Starting today and concluding on Aug. 9, The Plaza Classic Film Festival will feature various pop-up drive-ins showcasing classic cinema where viewers can enjoy and safely watch from their vehicles. The pop-up locations will feature a mobile screen rigged to a portable stage and include various locations across the El Paso region. 

According to the Plaza Film Festival website over 500,000 visitors from the community and all over the world have relished in the over 1,000 screenings presented, which has in turn, positively stimulated the local economy annually with an estimated $1.5 million reflected. In addition, continuing the festival during this time is also serving to employ many, especially in a time where unemployment is on the rise due to the pandemic. 

Admission is set at $25, to include double features and attendees are urged to remain in their vehicles throughout the duration of the screenings. If one would need to exit the vehicle, such as visiting the bathroom facilities, the usage of a mask will be strictly enforced, and social distancing is to be practiced. Vehicles will also be arranged in a checkerboard pattern to ensure a proper distance.  

“This is a time of uncertainty, but it is an opportunity to strengthen the bonds in our community in a safe way,” Eric Pearson, President and CEO of the El Paso Community Foundation said. “I know it’s not ideal, but it will definitely be a fun way to allow people a real outlet, digitally and in person.” 

Since late May, subsequent to the stay at home order, the festival’s team says it has been working tirelessly to adjust to the challenges that have ascended due to the pandemic to ensure the festival persists as planned. This has posed some inevitable challenges since the festival is typically planned for far more in advance.   

“It’s a complete change from what we’ve done for 12 years.” said Doug Pullen, the program director of the El Paso Community FoundationBack when it was launched in 2008 it had a different name it was called “The Movies Return to the Plaza Theater. It was a way to kind of mark the reopening of the theater and bringing movies back, which was by popular demand. They changed the name in 2009 and added a couple of elements like outdoor concerts so each year it evolves a little bit, but it’s never gone through such a drastic transformation as this year,” 

This year, it is a drive-in and digitally streaming hybrid and since the fest is considered repertoire or non-theatrical, meaning the curated films are not first-run films, there were some licensing challenges posed during the transition due to contractual binding.  

An example of this is the film Amadeus, which being digitally streamed on the Plaza Classic Film Festival website this year, facilitated by a streaming platform out of Dallas. Since the distributor is independent, what he asked in replace of a licensing fee was that a contribution should be made to a local homeless shelter. The matched proceeds this year will be going to the Opportunity Center for the Homeless.  

Streaming at p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9 Amadeus will be coupled with a 30-minute interview with F. Murray Abraham, who won an Academy Award for his leading role as Antonio Salieri in the film. Abraham is from El Paso and attended UTEP back when it was called the Texas Western College.  

Alison Powell, who wrote, directed, and starred in a film called Banging Lanie which was filmed in Las Cruces with New Mexico State University creative media institute students, is also set to make a digital appearance for a Q&A following the streaming of the film. 

Among other filmsKhalid: Free Spirit will also be shown. The film, which accompanied Khalid’s “Free Spirit” album debut is a one-time showing, something Pullen says will give a wider audience the opportunity to enjoy the festival 

The digital site will run Aug. 5 through Aug. 9.   

Pullen says that the drive-in and digital elements are two components they have cross-pollinated to achieve what the festival has metamorphosed into this year.  

“We’re in this climate where everything’s been canceled,” Pullen said. “Everything’s been postponed and we really wanted to try and do something that would be an uplift for the community but trying to do it in a responsible way. We’ve researched a lot of drive-ins going into this and have consulted with a variety of people just to kind of stay on top of things and not get lax about it.”  

Below is a full schedule of this year’s Plaza Classic Film Festival, with all the shows starting at 8:30 p.m. 

July 30 “Yellow Submarine” Ardovino’s  Desert Crossing restaurant in Sunland Park, NM.   

July 31 “Jaws” and “The Kid” double feature Valle Verde Campus 

Aug. 1 “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Duck Soup” double feature EPCC Valle Verde Campus 

Aug. 2 “The Birds” Camp Cohen Water Park 

Aug. 3 “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” Camp Cohen Water Park 

Aug. 4 “Jurassic Park” El Paso County Coliseum 

Aug. “Selena El Paso County Coliseum 

Aug. 6 “Godzilla King of the Monsters!” (1956) The Hospitals of Providence East 

Aug. 7 “Young Frankenstein” and “Frankenstein” double feature The Hospitals of Providence East 

Aug. 8 “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” double feature 

Hanger 7 Studios in NW corner of El Paso International Airport 

Aug. 9 “Casablanca” Hanger 7 Studios in NW corner of El Paso International Airport 

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://plazaclassic.com/schedule 

Sasha Minjarez may be reached at [email protected]