El Paso is known for its endless sunny days; one of the safest metropolitan cities in the U.S., it has blazing hot summers and is a sister-city to Juarez, Mexico. The city is also becoming known as a mecca for classic movie fans.
For the fourth year in a row, the Plaza Classic Film Festival has brought an increasing number of films over 11 days to the newly renovated Plaza Theater in downtown El Paso. I had the opportunity to talk with Charles Horak who, along with Eric Pearson, volunteered to put the film festival together. They are the creative driving force behind the festival.
What is your favorite movie that has been shown at the festival?
I pick them, so I have a personal attachment to each movie. Four years ago when I saw 2,000 people watching Casablanca on the big screen, it reminded me why we have to do this. Seeing this classic movie on the big screen, I realized things about this film that I had never noticed before. Also sharing the audience’s reaction to the humor in the film.
Another surreal moment was Rocky Horror Picture fans waiting to enter the theater while people who had just finished seeing Singing in the Rain were leaving. Two very different audiences sharing the same festival.
Watching the noir film, Blast of Silence, with 70 people, a movie about being alone in New York at Christmas. That feeling was amplified by sharing the experience in the theater with a small audience.
Metropolis was a big hit. We were able to show a silent film in German with a live orchestra and 1,200 people showed up to see it. We’re bringing the live orchestra back for Underworld, the first gangster film told from the gangster’s point of view.
Does the classic film festival have a theme every year?
The film festival doesn’t have a theme, but it does have threads. This year is gangster films, Shakespeare, Disney, action. We will be the first theater to show the restored Raiders of the Lost Ark for its 30th anniversary. We will also be the world premiere of the restored film, Guns of Navarone.
Mr. Horak likes to say, “We started with a huge success and we’ve only gotten better.”
What movie have you wanted to show at the festival, but haven’t been able to get yet?
Well, we did get Blade Runner this year at the Plaza. The rights were in dispute, but that has since been settled so we were able to get permission to show it.
African Queen. We were able to show the restored version last year. I don’t think people understand that many films are not ready to be shown even if they are available. So many haven’t been restored.
Abbott & Costello in Rio Rita. The print exists, but the quality isn’t ready for the big screen.
Snow White – it took three years for us to convince Disney to let us start showing their films. We have three of them in the festival this year, but we’re still working on getting this one.
I keep a list of hundreds of titles that I’m working on getting ready for the 2012 and 2013 festivals.
What movie do you think will bring in the biggest crowds this year?
Raiders of the Lost Ark, all the Disney films, Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, Godfather Part 2, Rebel without a Cause. Most of the 7 p.m. and late shows fill the theater but our numbers during the matinees are increasing as well.
It was a treat to hear Peter Bogdanovich and Nick Clooney introduce movies last year. What guest speakers do you have coming this year?
This year we have Peter Snell, Stephen Humphrey Bogart, Jason Robards III, Stewart Stern, Josh Carter, The Alloy Orchestra, Laura Emerick, Ryan Piers Williams, Jeanine Basinger, Leonard Maltin, Anne Coco, and Bart Weiss.
How has the festival grown?
We’re including other downtown exhibits and activities. This year we partnered with the El Paso Art Museum to show a special exhibit from the movie The Ten Commandments, which will be at the film festival.
Any special plans for upcoming festivals?
Both Universal and Paramount turn 100 next year, so we are working on special projects with them. More special guests. Sometimes it takes several years before you can schedule a special guest. Extend our partnership with the El Paso Art Museum.
Is this really the largest classic film festival in the world?
I can’t find a bigger one. There have been others but not for as many days with so many movies and with such a big turnout. The festival is also unique in that it is run by volunteers. We rely on sponsors to help us pay for the festival. This keeps the ticket prices very reasonable, from $4-10 depending on the movie.
This is truly a labor of love. Our goal is to get as many people as possible to experience the Plaza theater, re-live or discover great movies, and spend time in downtown El Paso.