In 1980, legendary local arthouse cinema owner George Lefont purchased the theater and began screening independent and foreign films that most other theaters wouldn’t touch including the controversial X-rated historical drama “Caligula.” After Lefont sold the theater a decade later, Tara maintained that strategy through multiple owners. Over time, Tara became a four-screen theater.
“Another piece of Atlanta’s soul is being chipped away,” said Jonathan Rej, who co-owned the Plaza Theater from 2004 to 2012. Last year, Cheshire Bridge Road also lost seafood restaurant Red Snapper after 36 years and Rhodes Bakery after 68 years.
Tara’s closure will leave Landmark’s Midtown Arts Cinema and the Plaza Theatre as the only arthouse theaters left in town.
The films showing Wednesday night at Tara included an award-winning character drama starring Cate Blanchett (”Tar”), a period abortion drama featuring Sigourney Weaver and Elizabeth Banks (“Call Jane”) and a British comedy murder mystery spoofing Agatha Christie (”See How They Run”).
As news of the pending closure spread, some customers on Wednesday evening came by to pay homage and say goodbye.
“It’s really disappointing,” said 27-year-old independent film producer Logan Austin of Grant Park, who drove 20 minutes specifically to watch the ironically titled film “Decision to Leave,” a critically acclaimed South Korean crime drama.
He said he’s been coming to Tara since he was in college, catching great movies like “Parasite,” “Emma” and a double feature of “Birdman” and “Whiplash.”
“My first movie date with my girlfriend was here,” he said, recalling the 2018 indie film “Puzzle.”
Gayle Rej said she grew up going to Tara in the 1970s and 1980s and became the theater manager in the mid-1990s. “I loved it because we’d have movie critics there for screenings,” she said. “I’d get to sit in the lobby and talk to Eleanor Ringel,” a renowned former movie critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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Ringel, in an interview Wednesday, said she liked the theater because “it had a personality and attracted real movie lovers. It was respected and beloved in its own way.”
David Patton, an Old Fourth Ward real estate consultant and attorney, said he’s been a regular patron since he was an Emory University student in 1984 and his most notable memory is having a T-shirt signed by Spike Lee, the now famed filmmaker who came to Tara to promote his breakthrough 1986 film “She’s Gotta Have It.”
“My friend would go and get Church’s Chicken across the way, put it in a giant purse and we’d eat chicken and drink beer in the back of the Tara,” he recalled.
The pandemic devastated the movie theater business in 2020 and 2021. While some big-budget films have drawn audiences over the past year, it’s been a tougher road for independent films, which have increasingly found homes on streaming services. And the type of audience Tara caters to, which is often older, has been more reluctant to return to movie theaters.
“It’s certainly a loss,” said Christopher Escobar, the owner of the Plaza Theatre four miles south, who signed a 25-year lease earlier this year to solidify his theater’s future. “Until Atlantans individually support our local theaters and historical establishments, we are going to keep losing places like this. It’s happening all around my theater.”