Last November, when news broke that Regal Cinemas planned to close Atlanta’s Tara Theatre, moviegoers across the city were crushed. The cinema, which opened in 1968, was converted into an arthouse theater in the 1980s and remained beloved by indie film buffs—including Christopher Escobar, director of the Atlanta Film Society. When Escobar, who purchased the city’s historic Plaza Theater in 2017, announced that he had bought the Tara and planned to reopen it as a locally run theater, he was hailed as a hero.
Escobar’s vision for the Tara and the Plaza is inspired by the South’s grand old movie palaces, like the Fox Theatre in Atlanta or the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham. “What I’m getting with the Tara is fifty-five years of history,” he says. “Yes, it’s a movie theater, but it’s also a bank of memories and stories and love.”
You own and run two historic movie theaters in Atlanta. How did you come to take over the Plaza Theater?
Almost immediately after I got involved with the Atlanta Film Society, I got word that the Plaza was potentially going to close. I’d gone to film school fifteen minutes away and had only been to the Plaza once! That was part of the problem—it was too disconnected from the community. We started holding film events there, and it put the Plaza back into people’s minds. We were able to show its potential and keep it open. When the owner retired in 2017, I bought the theater from him.
There’s a lot of doom-and-gloom talk about the future of moviegoing after the pandemic. What makes this type of experience something you think people will continue to seek out?
In a lot of ways, the experience of going to the movies has gotten worse. But in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, when you walked into a place like the Fox Theatre, it was a transformative experience. You felt you were transported somewhere else.
We’re aiming to create spaces that are so cool and exciting that they’re worth the price of admission alone. Being in the Fox alone is worth the ticket. That’s why I’m obsessive over every detail in the Plaza, right down to the toilet paper. I want people to find the experience so rewarding that they want to come early and stay after the movie is over. The movie itself is just a bonus.
What can Atlantans expect from the Tara now that it has reopened as a locally run theater?
We’re starting out with baby steps, like offering locally made snacks. Over the course of the year, we’re going to roll out rotating displays that celebrate film history, like vintage projectors and cameras. We’ll be opening a full bar and partnering with restaurants for expanded food offerings. And eventually hosting specialty programming between the Plaza and the Tara.
The artwork is also really special because it was donated by people across the city. Mostly old movie posters—The Wizard of Oz, Home Alone, Stepford Wives, Taxi Driver. These are from people’s personal collections and they’ve said, “Please take this and share it with everyone else.” That’s another example of what this place means.
You renamed the Tara’s four screening rooms after important folks in the theater’s history, including your landlord, Jack Halpern; Kenny Blank, the founder of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival; and George LeFont, a previous owner who also ran the Plaza. Why was it important to honor these individuals?
These people are one of the reasons this theater was so beloved in Atlanta and why it’s still around, just as much as the architecture or the movies on the screen. Jack Halpern, who is the property owner, could have made more money by turning this building into something else. We named another theater after Eddie Parrott, who was a longtime general manager of the Tara and truly a caretaker for this place. It wasn’t just a job for him.
Do you have a dream film you’d love to bring to Atlanta?
It would be a really cool coup to get the original version of Star Wars, because the Tara was the first theater in Atlanta that played Star Wars back in 1977. That’s something you really can’t find anymore, but the Plaza and the Tara will be the only theaters in Atlanta with historic 35 mm and 70 mm film projectors, set up the old-fashioned way with two projectors. That’ll allow us to get archive prints and screen films that the Tara couldn’t even do ten or fifteen years ago with a single projector.