Arthouse theater Tara Cinema closing after more than 50 years on Cheshire Bridge

Atlanta arthouse theater Regal Tara, known for years as Tara Cinema, is shutting down today after 54 years.

Theater owner Regal Cinema released a statement Wednesday, citing an unspecified “real estate optimization strategy” as the reason for the closure.

A Regal spokesman declined to provide any more details why the theater, located on Cheshire Bridge Road near I-85, is going dark.

The theater chain’s British parent company, Cineworld, in September filed for bankruptcy protection after failing to rebound quickly enough from the pandemic. The world’s second-largest movie chain behind AMC reported $8.9 billion in debt at the end of 2021.

Loew’s opened the single 1,000-seat theater in 1968, naming it Tara after the fictional plantation from the 1939 classic film “Gone With the Wind,” which was also the first film shown there. In 1977, Burt Reynolds hosted the premiere of “Smokey and the Bandit” at Tara. That same year, the theater was the first in Atlanta to show “Star Wars,” which stayed there for nearly six months.

Credit: Cinemat

Credit: Cinemat

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.

Credit: RODNEY HO/r

Credit: RODNEY HO/r

“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.

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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.”

Credit: RODNEY HO/hor

Credit: RODNEY HO/hor

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