Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre celebrates 70th Anniversary with 1939 Screenings, Appearances

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It’s a good weekend to be a classic film fan in Atlanta.
Tonight, the Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon Avenue kicks off it’s 70th
anniversary celebration with a screening of Frank Capra’s 1939 classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” hosted
by Oscars historian and Turner Classic Movies icon
Robert Osborne.

The anniversary also serves as an important fundraiser for
the beloved institution.

For owners Jonathan
and
Gayle Rej, the mere fact
that the financially struggling historic neighborhood movie house made it to
see its 70th birthday is reason enough for celebration.

Last year in an effort to keep the projectors humming and
popcorn flowing, the Rejs, who bought the theater in 2005, converted the Plaza
into a non-profit venture.

“The only reason we bought it was to save it,” explains
Jonathan Rej. “We never thought we would make a lot of money with this. There
used to be movie houses like this in every neighborhood in Atlanta. Most of
them are gone now.”

Remaining true to the Plaza’s indie spirit, for the anniversary
Rej sought out celluloid prints of 1939 classics, including “Gone With the
Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” a complete matinee serial “Buck Rogers in Planet
Outlaws” and Max Fleischer’s Technicolor “Gulliver’s Travels,” the second-ever
animated feature ever made, following the success of
Walt Disney’s
“Snow White.”

Scoring the rare prints for the Plaza is one of Jonathan’s
most time-consuming tasks.

“The studios have everything available digitally but we’re
not interested in showing those,” he explains. “The reason people come here is
for a traditional movie experience. Most people have seen these films on
television or DVD. But what’s cool is all the additional things that pop out at
you on the screen when you see that same film on the big screen.”

Alas, a useable print of the Plaza’s inaugural film shown in
1939, George Cukor’s “The Women” could not be located.

“I found one but it was in pretty rough shape,” says Rej.
“It had like 10 minutes missing and it just wasn’t worth it.”

Still, booking Osborne to introduce tonight’s “Smith”
screening was a big coup for the theatre.

“I met him a couple of years ago when he just showed up here
one night for a screening of  ‘An
Inconvenient Truth,’” recalls Rej. “I called his agent and asked about his
availability and I was told, ‘Robert is a big fan of what you’re doing at The
Plaza.’”

(While Rej graciously declined comment, Intel hears that
Osborne waived his usual hefty fee to appear at the gala).

The Plaza’s 70th anniversary celebration
continues this weekend with additional screenings of “Smith” and “Travels” and the rest of the month with screenings of “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz”
(featuring a live Q&A with former Munchkin actor Karl Slover, now age 91) and “Buck Rogers in Planet Outlaws.”

Despite the current economy, the Rejs remain optimistic
about the future. Plaza fans have begun to donate to the non-profit by becoming
members.

Says Rej: “The big anniversary is going to be number 75.
We’re hoping the Plaza will look like a completely different theater by then.
The biggest way anybody can help us is to just come in and see a movie.”

For  complete
schedule and tickets: www.plazaatlanta.com.


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