With the closing of the Tara Theatre on Nov. 10, an Atlanta era has come to an end.
After more than 50 years, a Regal Cinemas spokesperson confirmed the closure of the Tara, which was first opened in 1968 by Loew’s Theatres, named after the fictional plantation from “Gone With the Wind” (Lowe’s also operated long-gone Twelve Oaks Theatre in what is now Plaza Fiesta, too).
Years later, Atlanta arthouse legend George LeFont bought the theater, and the cinema transferred ownership many times over the years before landing at Regal.
Now, members of Atlanta’s independent theater community are in mourning. Kenny Blank, executive and artistic director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, said the loss of Tara will be felt deeply.
“From the old-fashioned charm of the cozy auditoriums to the retro lobby, there is nothing quite like the Tara,” Blank said. “We lament the closing of this beloved theater.”
Christopher Escobar – the owner of The Plaza Theatre in Poncey-Highland – also bemoaned the loss, particularly the cinema’s closure at the hands of Regal, whose parent company filed for bankruptcy in September.
“It’s unfortunately what’s at risk when we leave our treasured historic places to be owned by non-local mega-corporations,” Escobar said. He added that the loss was especially hard considering at one point, LeFont owned both the Tara and The Plaza, and called the two theaters “cinema siblings.”
“It’s heartbreaking because for generations the Tara was one of the few other art house cinemas in the city that was introducing Atlantans to indie film, foreign film and pictures that pushed the envelope,” Escobar said. “Places like the Tara only mean anything because people have been going there for decades, making memories and sharing experiences and it becomes a fixture on how they see and connect with their community.”
One group who has been making memories and forming a community at Tara might feel that loss a bit more acutely. A film group, composed of members of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Emory, began meeting after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to save the cinema.
Carol Wien, a Tara regular, was concerned about the drop in attendance she saw, particularly after COVID started. She put out feelers, looking to see if anyone else would be interested in joining her once a week to see a film.
Wien said the group never had more than 20 people in attendance per week, but the few that did come out, came out strong.
“We tried to keep this theater alive,” Wien said. “I guess we were naive in thinking that we alone could save it.”
Wien has been seeing movies at the Tara for decades, as have the other people I met with on a cold morning outside the now closed cinema. There’s Bill and Michiyo Allen, who have lived in Atlanta since 1975 and lived just a few blocks away from the Tara for their first seven years in the area. There’s also Gordon Shriver, who moved to Atlanta from rural Minnesota 40 years ago.
“It’s hard to believe I’ve been coming to this theater for the better part of 40 years,” Shriver said, recalling dates to the movies, and seeing films like “Dangerous Liaisons” on the big screen. “To see it closed now is a chapter closing.”
The rapport between this small group is relaxed and comfortable. The jokes come easy, and they never seem to run out of things to talk about – probably because they all know their stuff. Wien previously taught film courses at Perimeter College at Georgia State University (formerly Georgia Perimeter College). Bill Allen has taught classes about Broadway through OLLI. Shriver worked in radio, and even wrote a book on the horror icon Boris Karloff, called “Boris Karloff: The Man Remembered.”
All of these people are well-versed in film and entertainment, and the Tara provided them with a creative outlet where they could see arthouse films, independent films, foreign films – movies you wouldn’t be able to see in a chain multiplex.
“All the good movies are here,” Michiyo Allen said. “All the movies that we are interested in are always showing here. So it’s the place to be.”
Every week, Michiyo would email the group inviting them to see a movie of their choice on Tuesday. When they walked into the Tara, it felt like walking into an old friend’s house. The theaters felt familiar, they knew the workers, and the workers knew them.
“The word is cozy,” said member Sally Cook. “It’s got a cozy feeling, like you’re walking into somebody’s media room to watch a movie.”
Nov. 8 was the last time members of the group met to see a film at the Tara. They didn’t always see the same movie, but as the films would let out, members would trickle in to the nearby Rains Thai and Sushi Bar to discuss what they had seen. On that fateful Tuesday, Wien went to see “Decision to Leave,” the new South Korean mystery from director Park Chan-wook. At the end of the film, a worker she’d become friendly with walked over to her as the lights came up.
“She came up to me personally and said, it’s over,” Wien said. “I thought she meant the movie was over, but she was crying. So I realized Tara was over.”
Afterward, the worker walked over to the Thai restaurant to let everyone else know. It was a somber moment, the end of an era.
“I hope somebody buys it and keeps it open,” Bill Allen said.
Despite the Tara’s closure, the group plans to keep independent cinema alive at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, and anyone is welcome to join. But nothing can replace Tara.
“It will be so dearly missed, by the entire community,” Wien said. “It was such a landmark.”
Correction: Sally Cook’s name has been corrected as well as the section of Emory where Bill Allen taught.