The INSIDER insisted on pestering Doug Pullen, former reporter for the El Paso Times and newly christened coordinator for the Plaza Classic Film Festival, despite his immensely dense schedule. The days and hours count down quickly before this year’s Film Festival launches once again to thousands of classic movie fans. The audience will descend upon downtown with an eagerness to recapture what it would have been like to enjoy a film in a theater that harkens back to days when ushers wore white gloves and actual film was used to make each movie. Doug Pullen is no stranger to details — years of research as a journalist has prepared him for the daunting task at hand. We felt compelled to get inside Doug’s head to find out his thoughts about his inaugural year planning this nationally recognized film festival.
Q: You graduated from Eastwood High School but spent most of your adult life in Michigan, ultimately covering the Detroit music scene. In terms of writing, how easy was it to re-acclimate yourself to El Paso culture upon your return in 2008?
A: It wasn’t that difficult. After all, I started here just out of high school, freelancing for the Times. I also worked at the El Paso Herald-Post before I left for Michigan in 1983. That said, what little Spanish-speaking skills I had when I left diminished in the 25 years I was gone. I was living in mainstream America, and El Paso is not mainstream America. El Paso grew a lot and Latin music had exploded during that time I was gone, but we didn’t have a lot of exposure to it up there, except crossover acts like Ricky Martin and Shakira. Getting to know more about various kinds of Latin music was the biggest challenge. Going from a major market to a tertiary was also an adjustment, but I moved back for family reasons, so I took it in stride.
Q: Working your way up to journalist for the Flint Journal in Michigan and then to entertainment writer for the El Paso Times, did you ever imagine anything beyond that career-wise at the time?
A: I don’t think I ever thought that far in advance. I was too busy concentrating on the stories I had to write and the events I had to cover. I suppose if I envisioned anything, it was becoming either a features/entertainment editor (who wrote), a columnist or some combination of both.
Q: You self admittedly campaigned for the Arts section of the El Paso Times, adding it to your Entertainment writing duties after the Arts section was in danger of being minimalized. Where does your passion for the creative world stem?
A: Not a clue. I fell in love with rock and pop music at a very young age, during the so-called British Invasion (Beatles, Stones, etc.) in the early to mid-60s. It probably started there. I also liked going to movies and, of course, was part of a generation that grew up on TV. They are all related. Somehow that led to writing about music for my high school paper, then majoring in journalism at Texas Tech, when I first tried writing about other creative areas, such as film, visual arts, theater and so on. I continued to do that after TTU for the Herald-Post, where I worked from 1981-83, and the Kalamazoo Gazette in Michigan, where I worked from 1983-90. It wasn’t until I transferred to the Flint Journal in 1990 that I was able to focus on covering music exclusively. Still, I wrote about movies, stand-up comedy, local media and so on during my 17 years there. When I got to the Times, they didn’t have a designated entertainment writer, and their arts writer left a few months after I started. There was talk of dropping arts coverage after she left, so I said I’d do it. I had to flex some muscles that hadn’t been used in years, but I also was inspired by the more extensive and aggressive arts and entertainment coverage typical up north. I tried to bring some of that here.
Q: Now as the Program Director for the El Paso Community foundation where you are responsible for the coordination of events like Chalk the Block and the Plaza Classic Film Festival, how has the transition affected you in this first year?
A: How hasn’t it? It’s a whole new skill set, even though I still write, ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research. Instead of negotiating for telephone interviews with music stars and filmmakers, I’m negotiating licensing deals and trying to persuade film stars to appear at the Plaza Classic Film Festival. There’s a big learning curve, but I feel surprisingly comfortable in the role. I’ll feel better once I get the first PCFF under my belt.
Q: Your career has mostly been covering the music scene as a journalist, how much knowledge of films did you bring to the table? How much was research?
A: There’s plenty of research. Lots of research. Reading. Watching movies. Asking questions. More reading. But I started writing movie reviews and interviewing movie people when I was on the student paper at Texas Tech. My first film junket was “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in the 1970s, and I got to ask Steven Spielberg a question. “Today” show critic Judith Crist told me she didn’t read press kits or other hype before watching a movie, a philosophy I still maintain today. I got some on-set experience at the Herald-Post, covering B-movies like “Fandango” and “Lone Wolf McQuade.” In Kalamazoo, I reviewed more than 100 movies a year for seven years, and I’d go to mini-junkets in Chicago, a two-hour drive west, where I interviewed people like Tom Hanks (twice), Kate Capshaw and Richard Crenna. I was the backup film writer in Flint and was a member of the Detroit Film Critics. Michael Moore is from Flint and I had some dealings with him. You learn from all of that. My predecessor here, Charles Horak, has taught me a lot, both when I was a journalist covering the festival for the Times and as a fledgling program director, as has our president and CEO, Eric Pearson.
Q: We noticed there are a few modern cult classics like, “Office Space,” “The Sandlot,” and “Bottle Rocket.” Were those suggested by the same person?
A: Nope. Eric Pearson, who cofounded PCFF with Charles Horak, teased the Mills Plaza Parking Garage crowd last year that we’d show “Office Space” this year. I wanted to make good on that promise. Plus, it’s a hilarious sendup of office politics and corporate doublespeak. “The Sandlot” was suggested by Carlos Corral, a local filmmaker who is part of an advisory committee I meet with regularly. I wanted to do baseball movies in honor of the Chihuahuas this year, it is the 75th anniversary of Little League Baseball and I really like that movie’s sweetness, so I went after it. I’m also a big fan of Wes Anderson’s work. I thought his first movie was a good place to start showing his movies here. We’re showing more than 90 movies this year, but I started with a wish list of about 600 titles that came from a variety of sources, including my own ideas.
Q: What would you tell a younger viewer that might not see a reason to see an old movie all the way in downtown?
A: A younger viewer owes it to himself or herself to expand their horizons, to see a movie as it was intended to be seen, in a beautiful movie palace like the Plaza Theatre, on a big screen, with a reverent crowd of people who are younger and older than they are. There’s nothing quite like it. You can also learn something about the times in which you live by seeing a movie from another time. I remember something Nick Clooney, George’s dad, said at one of the first PCFFs that movies capture the times in which they are made. If you want to know something about the culture (and Hollywood’s view of it), want to appreciate superlative performances, go see a movie that has withstood the test of time.
Q: What logistical changes, if any, will there be this year at the festival?
A: Well, the big one is we’re working with the DMD to move our free, outdoor, music movies from the Arts Festival Plaza to the one-block portion of Mills Street between the Mills Building and Plaza Hotel. Originally, AFP was going to be torn up for renovation, so we had to move, but recently we learned that project has been delayed, but we have invested too much time and money to move back this year. Additionally, we’ve moved our Local Flavor programs, where we show projects by area filmmakers, from the El Paso Museum of Art to our Foundation Room, 333 N. Oregon. Hopefully, it’ll provide a comfortable atmosphere where you can have a beer and talk movies with the like-minded and the curious. That freed up the EPMA auditorium, where we’ll show six environmentally themed movies, ranging from “Ice Age” to “An Inconvenient Truth,” to augment their “Vanishing Ice” exhibit. That’s part of our fourth annual collaboration with them, which includes an exhibit from Charles and Ann Horak’s private collection, “No Subtitles Required: The Art of the International Film Poster,” which is up through Aug. 31.
Q: Lastly, as a movie fan what do you geek-out about?
A: Not sure. I’ve long had a weakness for indie and foreign films, nurtured by going to the Fountain Theater in Mesilla in the early ‘80s. I’m burned out on comic book movies and appreciate well-written, well-made movies in just about any genre. Since the festival started in 2008, I’ve enjoyed watching old classics I missed the first time around. I booked “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “12 Angry Men” and “Arsenic and Old Lace,” among others, this year because I’d never seen them from start to finish before I watched them as part of my research for this year’s festival.