If you’ve been in Atlanta long enough, chances are you’ve been to the iconic Plaza Theatre at least once. You may have also heard of the Plaza around Christmas time of last year when the small independent theater stood by their decision to screen the controversial movie, The Interview. At the time, Sony had pulled the film in the midst of threats and controversy. The Plaza Theatre fought to show the film and when Sony eventually did release the rights, the Plaza was one of the first theaters nationwide to screen the movie.
Located in Briarcliff Plaza shopping center at the corner of North Highland and Ponce de Leon avenues, the circa-1939 art deco theater with its distinctive marquee has gone through many changes throughout the years. The shopping center was the first in Atlanta with off-street parking, and is also home to varied retailers like Urban Outfitters (once home to the much-missed Plaza Drugs with its busy lunch counter), Righteous Room bar, FedEx/Kinkos, Island Flowers, Buffalo Exchange and the equally historic Majestic Diner, which has been serving up burgers and breakfast since 1929.
I have come to know and truly love the Plaza. My time spent working at the Majestic Diner familiarized me with that area and I attended a variety of shows. Screenings at the Plaza vary so much from film to film. For many, like the Atlanta Film Festival movies, the aura is peaceful and observant. The respectful crowd watches in silence, giving only the most appropriate chuckles, and cheering and clapping for their preferred showings. At other times, like during the weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show, the vibe in the place is decidedly more raucous and vibrant. I miss the old Splatter Cinema festivals with B-movies and elaborate lobby displays.
“It’s been a nationwide switchover, and I think the trafficking and transferring of prints now is a lot more streamlined, convenient and much easier,” Brandon explained. “You have to evolve or wither away.”
It’s this adaptability that has kept the Plaza at the forefront of artistic filmmaking in the Atlanta community.
“There’s always something going on,” Brandon said. “You can never really put a finger down on the constructive feel of the theater because it’s always in flux.”
Despite the theater’s evolution, the Plaza has maintained its foothold in Atlanta culture. “We’ve never stopped running,” he told me, a point of pride in discussing the longevity of this theater’s history. “It’s always been a theater in some way, shape or form.”
Many celebrities have visited the Plaza. When asked his favorite memory, Brandon recalled when he encountered one of his favorite actors, Bill Paxton. “It was late and we were cleaning up during the screening of ‘The Enemy. ‘The theater door opens, a guy walks out… and it’s Bill Paxton. It was like, wow.”
The Plaza’s influence within the local film community is evident in their collaboration with local festivals and events. Most notably, they host the annual Atlanta Film Festival as well as a variety of other festivals and screening events. “We are always looking for new ways to engage people and get people into seats,” Brandon said.
To see what’s currently showing at the Plaza, visit plazaatlanta.com.