The last time we spoke to Doug Pullen, he was putting on the final touches to the first El Paso Community Foundation Plaza Classic Film Festival he was tasked to coordinate in 2014. His inaugural year as the Program Director saw films as diverse as The Sandlot and Arsenic and Old Lace, but with a couple of years under his belt the former El Paso Times journalist is hitting his stride.
The Plaza Classic Film Festival (PCFF), is the premiere festival for classic films in the Southwest, if not the world. The festival is a partnership between the City of El Paso and the El Paso Community Foundation (EPCF). Birthed by EPCF President/CEO Eric Pearson and film enthusiast Charles Horak, the festival utilizes the historic Plaza Theatre to envelope patrons in a one-of-a-kind experience.
Doug Pullen, took the time to explain how we ended up with not only one giant pop-culture film, but a trio of larger than life movies: Star Wars, Rocky and Giant! (For the record, we’re counting the original Star Wars film trilogy as one, since the entire series is a phenomena.)
“There’s a tradition in the Film Festival of trying to get a Star Wars movie, and in 2009, Chuck Horak, the Artistic Director at the time, he got it. But, it was just the first movie, which was Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, so he continued to try and get them but he left and I came in,” said Pullen.
Ove the next couple of years, the movies were on moratorium, and it was not until this year the PCFF was allowed to show the original trilogy. The moment Mr. Pullen found out the films would be available after August 1st, his first response was, “Are you ****ing me?” Indeed, with a fan-base as voracious as Star Wars fans, Pullen knew a back-to-back showing would garner a large local crowd tweeting about their experience but he felt there was an opportunity to use these films as tent-poles for the entire festival. “We spread these films out, Friday, Wednesday, Sunday, and finish the festival with Return of the Jedi. I like the idea of going out on a certain kind of note,” said Pullen.
With such a serendipitous windfall like getting the go-ahead to show the Star Wars trilogy, expecting to get the greenlight to show something like Rocky is more than just gravy,” The other movies started to fall into place, we’ve been going after Rocky since last October. We were told it was also on moratorium, but in May, they gave us the go-ahead,” said Pullen.
Rocky, the sports drama, starring Sylvester Stallone, and the highest grossing film of 1976, went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture. Stallone refused to sell the script of the film he wrote, unless United Artists agreed to allow him to star as the lead. This was obviously the smartest decision he ever made.
In choosing to score the film Pullen had his reasoning,” For me, I knew it was an anniversary, 40th, El Paso is a big boxing town, there’s that, so when the film festival ended last year, I started working on this one,” said Pullen.
“It was a Cinderella story, you root for the underdog, and I remember the emotion in the theatre when I saw it,” recalled Pullen.
Finally, in addition to these monumental films becoming available this year, other elements fell into place,” Giant, is another example – in March of 2015, Senator Rodriguez hosted a screening of a documentary here in the Foundation Room, a movie called Children of Giant. It not only talked about how they made the movie Giant in Marfa, but he took it deeper and went into some of the racial issues that were not only explored in the movie, but were going on in Marfa,” said Pullen.
“Sitting there watching it, all of this coalesced, ‘What if we brought the movie back?’ It’s the 60th anniversary – because we showed it at the first Plaza Classic,” said Pullen.
Pullen asked questions like, not only can we show this movie again, “But what if we can show this documentary and have an exhibition about filming in Marfa too, and see if there are any El Paso ties to that?”
“I arranged to go to Hollywood and spend a day at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library. I researched the files from the George Stevens collection – he was the director – and I found memos about the entire shoot in Marfa,” said Pullen.
Among the large amount of memos about the shoot, including information about Elizabeth Taylor’s illnesses on set and James Dean’s absences, there was information about the caterers. One of which was a gentleman from El Paso, named Leon Gillespie who also happened to be a prominent restauranteur in the 50’s and 60’s according to Pullen.
In interviewing Pullen, it was clear that the stories he relayed about the shoots on set and how they related to El Paso individuals would be too rich to completely write about in this piece, so we encourage you to check your PCFF schedule and catch all of the films with special guest speakers and visit the exhibition called A ‘Giant’ Story: When Hollywood Came to West Texas, opening on July 28th at the El Paso Museum of History.
This year you can catch films series with themes such as, Monster Mash (monster and horror archetypal films), Election-based films, the Coppola Family Tree series, and the free outdoor movies primed to take advantage of the newly open San Jacinto Plaza.
As a parting shot, we asked Doug Pullen to give us his personal picks this year!
DOUG DIGS these FLIX:
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Because it was Bowie’s first movie, it was shot in White Sands, New Mexico, and I was a huge Bowie fan. I contacted the distributor the week before Bowie died. I’ve never had a rock star death affect me the way this one did. I glommed onto him when I was 13, and it wasn’t one of my big brothers acts, it was my act. – Doug Pullen
My Life as a Dog
This is a mid-eighties Swedish movie, and it’s really sweet. If you’ve never seen it, you should see it. I’ve probably seen this movie 3 or 4 times because I loved it so much. – Doug Pullen
12 O’Clock High
This is part of a Gregory Peck spotlight, and it kind of in a way touches upon my own parent’s story. My Dad was a navigator in a B-17 in World War II, stationed in England. My Mother was English and they met in a bookstore in England. Then she came to this country not a year or two after the war ended, not knowing anyone but my Dad and started this whole new life. It was something I ran by her, for her approval, before programming it. – Doug Pullen
For more information visit the Plaza Classic Film Festival website.