The Interstate Documentary Project
Working Title: Before the Curtain Rises-
The Story of a Texas Theater Empire
Project Web Site
The Interstate Documentary Project is a multifaceted media initiative to preserve the history of one of America’s greatest motion picture theater dynasties and the man who founded it, Karl Hoblitzelle. The primary component of the project will be a one-hour documentary film entitled Before the Curtain Rises that examines the golden era of film exhibition in Texas and the unique and colorful showmen and women of the industry. It will also illustrate how Interstate shaped the history and quality of life in Texas through its business and philanthropic activities.
Interstate was an entertainment empire that, at its height, operated over 100 movie theaters in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico. The company began in 1905 with vaudeville houses and grew and prospered throughout the evolution of movie exhibition until the early 1970’s, perfectly illustrating the arc of the motion picture industry. Karl Hoblitzelle, Interstate’s life-long president, also ushered in a remarkable era of entertainment innovation and promotional audacity. Movie stars toured his theater circuit to launch new films, beginning with a parade down Main Street and culminating on the theatre stage during opening night ceremonies. Outside, the movie palaces were festooned with extraordinary multi-storied advertising displays and illuminated with sweeping searchlights.
Sadly, the magic of the movie palace did not last forever. Interstate Theatres was caught in the crosshairs of television, the breakup of the studio system, and accelerating urban flight. Its empire slowly withered and collapsed. After the company was gone, the remaining movie houses limped along under new ownership as venues for martial arts films or X-rated fare. Others became funeral parlors, churches, and even bowling alleys. Scores met the wrecking ball.
Before the Curtain Rises also incorporates a modern story, the rescue of the last, great Interstate movie palace, The Plaza in El Paso, Texas. It is a remarkable saga of a community's 20-year struggle to save a beloved theater and make it the keystone of a revitalization plan for El Paso. The film documents the entire restoration process and the reopening of the theatre as a community performing arts center. This succcess story shines as a template for how abandoned urban theatres, once considered white elephants, can be repurposed, attract new audiences, and resurrect decaying downtowns.
Finally, the film examines the critical crossroads at which we find ourselves poised today. With increasing numbers of people no longer "going to the movies," what is the fate of the movie house? Will viewers retreat to the isolation of personal digital deveices for watching films, and how will losing the unique communal experience offered by the movie theatre effect us as a society?
Along with a PBS broadcast, the project plans a home video distribution, educational distribution with a teacher’s guide for secondary history and social studies curriculum, an educational Web site, and a distribution to historical preservation and urban revitalization organizations.
Documentary Alliance, a Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to eliminating the cultural amnesia that robs Americans of the valuable lessons of the past. We do this by using film, video and multimedia to fashion thoughtful and thought provoking programs about history, culture, and science.