Doug Pullen – conductor of the world’s largest classic film festival for the past 10 years – is a busy man year-round, bouncing between meetings with film distributors, actor representatives and his own staff and volunteers while going through hundreds of movie titles to come up with recommendations for the year’s lineup.
Once summer arrives, the work only intensifies as he readies to step out from behind the curtains on the Plaza Theatre stage to kickoff the Plaza Classic Film Festival.
It’s quite a pace for the former El Paso Times reporter who covered the festival for five years before becoming its program director.
“It was divine intervention – just kidding,” said Pullen, 65, on how he felt when he first got the position. “Not sure how I was chosen. Eric Pearson, president and CEO of the El Paso Community Foundation, was aware of my love for the festival. I had written daily stories about festival events from its second year in 2009 to its sixth in 2013. I was ready for a new challenge but intimidated by what I didn’t know and the big shoes I had to fill following Charles Horak, who founded the festival with Eric in 2008.”
The Plaza Classic Film Festival was created by the El Paso Community Foundation to bring movies back to the historic Plaza Theatre, which was restored by the foundation two years earlier in partnership with the city. The festival has a $1.5 million economic impact on the community and averages attendance of 40,000 people a year. More than 525,000 people have attended the first 15 festivals, according to the website.
While this year’s festival starts with the showing of “The NeverEnding Story” on July 20, Pullen works year-round to ensure the festival is a success. He writes and edits the program, social media posts and press releases. He also manages content on the website, works with sponsors, El Paso Live staff, projectionists and countless other people to pull off the 10-day festival.
“There’s a lot of planning that goes into this, and a lot of elbow grease needed to make those plans turn into reality. Not everything ever goes according to plan,” Pullen said. “The easiest part is knowing that a lot of people have my back, and a lot of people love this festival, which is such a feel-good event. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of self-applied pressure.”
The community foundation staff and advisory committee help Pullen during the process, meeting monthly year-round to discuss the movie line-up and themes. The committee comprises community volunteers and movie fans, including Camilla Carr, Jay Duncan, Lisa Elliott, Jack Fields, Craig Holden, Rebecca Mendez, Keri Moe, Erin Flores Ritter, Kristin Trick, Terri Rutter, Stephanie Valle and Jaime Mendez. who has worked closely with Pullen on the film festival for the past 10 years.
“Doug is a film aficionado just like me,” said Mendez. “He loves to talk about films and what these films inspired and how it fits into modern society. I think he’s done an amazing job, he has a passion for what he does. He’s a visionary and he’s always looking for ways to grow the festival.”
This year’s movie themes are family dysfunction, mockumentaries and the idea of space. The lineup includes classics such as “Casablanca” and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“People of the Crossing: The Jews of El Paso,” a documentary by filmmaker Isaac Artenstein, will have its world premiere at 2:30 p.m. on July 23. El Paso Matters CEO Bob Moore will conduct a Q&A with Artenstein after the screening.
The scheduled special guests for the 16th annual festival will be actors Edward James Olmos and Helen Hunt. Olmos will be speak prior to the screening of his movies, “Stand and Deliver” and “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez.” Hunt will be interviewed prior to the showing of “As Good as It Gets” and “Twister.”
The SAG-AFTRA strike that began July 14 has added a bit of drama to whether those guests will participate in the festival. A strike prohibits “talent” from participating in events such as movie festivals. Pullen said he was in a “wait and see” mode, but added that there will be no programming changes. However, festival organizers will review their options in terms of refunds. He recalled a similar situation in 2021 when Rita Moreno pulled out of the festival due to a work commitment and the foundation refunded tickets for that screening.
When asked about his favorite part of the festival, Pullen said, “I really love sitting in the audience (when I can) during the festival. I love the communal feel of it, especially in the Plaza Theatre. There’s nothing like watching a movie on that big screen (literally, 43 feet by 20 feet). It’s truly immersive.”
This year’s Plaza Classic Film Festival ends July 30 with the showing of the 1989 “Batman,” starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton at 7 p.m.
For show listings and tickets, visit plazaclassic.com.
Disclosure: El Paso Community Foundation is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.