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In El Paso, Films from Another Era


by Stephen Becker 18 Aug 2009

Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas. He recently attended the Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso and sends this report: Most film festivals are looking for the newest films in whatever niche the fest goes after. I just spend a few days in sunny El Paso at the […]

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Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas. He recently attended the Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso and sends this report:

Most film festivals are looking for the newest films in whatever niche the fest goes after. I just spend a few days in sunny El Paso at the 2nd Plaza Classic Film Festival, which showed only a few works made in this decade.
Most of the films, as the title suggests, are classics. It’s kind of like what we used to call repertory, when you got to see Star Wars, Gone With the Wind and other films that pop up on the small screen but you never get to see the way they were meant to be seen.
Part of the glow of the festival is the films. Then there are the masses of people – people who usually don’t got to a film festival, or in some cases haven’t been to a film in years. But a big part of the charm is the presentation.
The festival takes place in a restored film palace. Not too long ago in many cities around the country there were beautiful palaces of cinema that were larger than life. They were grand and gave the masses a feeling of being royalty, if for no other reason than they were sitting in air conditioning. I worked on a film about the movie palaces in the 70s, and since then most have vanished. Most were killed by multiplexes with arcade games. The films at the Plaza Classic Festival were shown at the Plaza Theater, which is the best restoration of one of these palaces I have ever seen. The lobby, the bathrooms, the scale and the majesty of the palace have come alive like the monsters in one of the sci-fi films we saw.
The other amazing thing about the festival is that the films in this big theater are all shown on film. Many are new prints, and all are great prints. Many people who come to see these films have never experienced some of these on the big screen, and for many they will never get to see them again this way.
Like most festivals, this is the work of a passionate visionary who loves films. In this case, that person is artistic director Charles Horak. Many years ago, when I first came to El Paso to show videos from the Dallas Video Festival, he did a radio show on the local public station about film (hey, that would be a good thing here) and did an interview that smacked of film smarts. We became fast friends. His encyclopedic knowledge and excitement for all things celluloid was a delight to be around, and every time I go to EP, we spend hours talking film. He makes this happen, and the city loves him for it.
In the two and a half days I was there, I saw The Maltese Falcon, Double indemnity, Gone with the Wind, The French Connection, White Mane (an incredible story of a boy and a horse), a collection of art house shorts that included a 16 mm print of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and Mel Brooks’ The Critic again in a 16 mm print.
After The French Connection, there was a rare black and while film called Blast of Silence by Allen Baron (click here for a snippet).
One evening there was also an event called Pecha Kucha, where local artists get 20 slides on a PowerPoint to show off their creativity. This goes on all over the world, but as far as I can see there is no local version. If anyone knows of one please let me know (bart@videofest.org).
Then, on Friday night, I did a program of Texas-made work from the Video Fest, which looked great on the big screen.
In the morning we saw Dr. Cyclops (watch the trailer here) and we ended our stay with War of the Worlds.
Indeed, I left town with my wonder for the ancient culture of cinema revived.
It was a beautiful thing
Now, on to look at contemporary work for this years Video Fest.

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