Gayle and Johnny Rej still own the theatre, the Atlanta Film Festival will be managing it for them.
Posted by Debbie Michaud
Last November, the Plaza Theatre sent out a cry for help: The vintage repertory cinema was seeking new ownership in the face of the prohibitively expensive cost of converting the theater to digital screening formats, a necessary move as studios are not only ceasing the production of film prints, but also going so far as to destroy film archives. A full digital upgrade would cost an estimated $30,000-$40,000 - money the nonprofit moviehouse doesn't have owners Gayle and Johnny Rej told CL after the November announcement.
The Atlanta Film Festival announced last night after a screening of AKA Blondie that it will be taking over programming and marketing for the Plaza Theatre, effective immediately. This does not mean that ATLFF 365 owns the Plaza: "It's essentially a management partnership. [The Rejs] own it and we're going to be managing it for them," says Christopher Escoboar, ATLFF365 executive director.
"What Johnny and Gayle started six years ago, which was to save the Plaza, was always a step one. This is the next step in ensuring that the Plaza stays a sustainable and permanent place in [Atlanta's] arts and film landscape. This is not the job is done; we're a step closer and [the festival] is trying to be a mechanism in ensuring the plaza's survival," says Escoboar.
The new partnership is part of a five-year plan Escoboar calls "mutually beneficial with a lot of trust and flexibility built into it" that will assist in raising funds to help the Plaza make the digital conversion, as well as provide support for things like grant writing and building maintenance for which the Rejs previously haven't had the resources.
"We have a phase plan," Escoboar explains. "The Plaza has not only not had full digital capabilities, they haven't had the proper HD digital projection." Theaters are being forced into a two-part DCP system, a digital process that grabs films from the Internet and plays them through special (ie, expensive) projectors that boast a resolution higher than HD. According to Escoboar, "Theaters are being shoved into doing this so that the distributors can save on printing and shipping costs of film that can cost $5,000 a piece to make and more to ship around the country. They're forcing the conversion for their own benefit and not helping anyone do it."
Escoboar worked out a deal with Optoma Technology to purchase two high-end projector units for the festival for the price of renting them. Landmark Midtown will house the projectors after the fest, but the Plaza will have free reign to use them, opening up all kinds of new event, and therefore revenue, possibilities to help raise money for the full-fledged digital transition. That means early releases and access to a much broader library of films thanks to ATLFF 365's international reputation and programming savvy.
"We don't have money but we do have means to use the resources the Plaza has to make money. We're putting up what we each have available to meet what we each need to be greater than the sum of the parts," says Escoboar.