Reporting by GEPRA
Marking a return to the venue’s roots as an urban movie palace, the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University today announced the installation of a new digital film projector and cinema screen.
The additions—the result of a successful multi-year fundraising effort that began in 2017—enables the downtown venue to continue presenting its popular year-round live events series and Georgia State’s student music and stage performances while also offering a new big-screen experience for Atlanta film screenings.
“This newly installed digital projector and screen marks the culmination of a six-year fundraising effort nearing its end,” said Lee Foster, Rialto Center for the Arts executive director. “This technology enables our team to provide audiences with the very latest in cinematic display and audio options, while also enabling our events team to engage with the state’s thriving film and television industry to create elevated film premiere experiences.”
Rialto Advisory Board Vice Chair Christopher Escobar, known regionally for his leadership of the Atlanta Film Society (ATLFS), Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF), The Plaza Theatre and the recently announced return of Atlanta’s Tara Theatre, and Rialto Production Manager Michael Williams, a GSU graduate and founder of the student-run Cinefest, helped champion the Rialto team’s multi-year planning and purchase of the new projection and screen equipment for Rialto Center for the Arts.
“This installation creates a world-class movie premiere destination in the heart of the South’s thriving film community,” said Escobar. “It’s been a long-term vision of the Rialto team to deliver a modernized movie experience to complement the venue’s established designation Where Atlanta Meets the World for live music, dance and theatrical events.
“Along with Lee Foster and the entire Rialto team, I personally can’t wait to welcome Atlanta Film Festival and other film organizations—and their movie-loving audiences—back to downtown to experience this new technology with all the comforts of the Rialto experience, which is something special about which Atlantans should be proud,” Escobar added.
Originally opened as the Piedmont Theatre in April 1916, in December of that year the 916-seat venue’s name was changed to Rialto—an exchange or marketplace—a year before the South’s premiere of the original (1917) “Cleopatra.” Among the first films of the theatre’s opening week were “The Hunted Woman” starring Virginia Pearson and “The Havoc” featuring Atlanta-born star Gladys Hanson Snook.
The Rialto thrived as a vaudeville and movie destination for several decades—eventually being demolished in 1962 and rebuilt to seat 1,200 in 1963—before declining during the 1970s and eventually closing in 1989. GSU’s purchase and refurbishment during the early 1990s led to its reopening as the Rialto Center for the Arts in 1996, with Bud Greenspan’s documentary film “Atlanta’s Olympic Glory” premiering at Rialto in summer 1997.
More recently, the Rialto also hosted dozens of premieres or festival and special screenings including “Shaft” starring Morehouse College alum Samuel L. Jackson in 2000, two “Game of Thrones” season premieres in 2012 and 2013, and Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated and Atlanta-centric “Richard Jewell” in Dec. 2019. The Rialto also hosted special events and screenings of the Atlanta Film Festival and the TBS Film Festival among its many film events.
The Rialto made today’s announcement with two initial film events already secured for spring. The venue will host a private film premiere event on April 3, and in late April the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) will host one of its special screening events at Rialto. Specifics for the ATLFF event—which provides the public with the first opportunity to experience the new projector and screen—will be announced by ATLFF later in March.
“We will also host a special event for longtime Rialto supporters as well as film and TV industry executives to learn more about the new film capabilities,” said Foster. “We may also announce other film-centric events and experiences when we rollout the Rialto’s 2023-24 season during June.”
“Our updates to Rialto also complement GSU President Dr. M. Brian Blake’s strategic plan through which the campus can become a ‘college town downtown’ and sought after destination,” added Foster.
For industry professionals or cinephiles, the new projection and screen equipment specifics include:
DCP Video provided by a Cinionic Barco 4K resolution, 25,000 lumen laser projector. The upgrade delivers an elevated movie presentation with laser-sharp images, exceptional brightness, deeper contrast, and vivid colors, as 4K is four times as many pixels as 1080 HD.
The hoist-animated, motorized screen is a perforated, 35’ x 19’8” Stewart Lexus Grande S8 with any aspect ratios of 2.35:1 to 1:1 square possible with manually adjustable side masking.
Other video projection and 35mm available at the Rialto:
HD video projector at 12,000 lumens which may also be used to project images on backdrops or moved on-stage for rear projection.
Dual-35mm projection with two matching Century SA film projectors. Rialto can present rare, archival and museum prints with minimal wear and tear because each reel is projected independently.
The Rialto is currently a Dolby 5.1 theater utilizing Dolby’s CP650 processor. The in-house Meyer PA system may also be integrated into presentations.
“Adding this massive, industry-grade screen, which may be lowered into place at the touch of a button, is a marvel and game changer for Rialto,” said Escobar. “This was a significant investment that took extra time but was done right.”
The newly installed projection equipment is compatible with the venue’s current Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound system. Additional funds will help the venue upgrade or replace the entire cinema audio system with eventual installation of new, state-of-the-art audio processors, amplifiers and cinema speakers.
The journey to update the Rialto’s film presentation capabilities was rooted in the venue’s long standing need, and nonprofit financial constraints, to respond to industry trends favoring digital over 35mm projection since the early 2000s. Over time, the cost to rent outsourced, industry-grade equipment, on top of standard venue rental rates, was a deterrent for studio premiere planners and cinema event planners.
Around 2016, the venue’s then-executive director, Leslie Gordon, invited Escobar—who had established leadership roles in Atlanta’s film and theatre communities—to join the venue’s advisory board.
“My longtime view is that film is the positive culmination of all other art forms,” said Escobar. “Since the Rialto presents the best in dance, theater, jazz and global music, and the arts, and given the venue’s rich history tied to cinema, it was a natural for the team to establish the projector upgrade as a top priority.”
Escobar emerged as a board member champion for the projector fundraising, while then-Interim, now Associate Director Jennifer S. Moore and Williams were the lead staff advocates.
To purchase the new film equipment, the Rialto Center for the Arts embarked on a multi-year fundraising campaign to raise more than $350,000 needed for the upgrades. Though progress advanced quickly in early months, and the executive director—and by extension the projector fundraising effort—baton passed to Foster in 2019, many challenges related to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic paused the effort, which regained steam as venue operations resumed in 2021. During this time, the venue’s applications for various grants resulted in an infusion of funds toward the projector and screen.
“By spring 2022 we raised $317,269, just shy of 90 percent of our goal (89.5%), so we knew we could proceed with the equipment purchase during fall 2022, with Michael’s oversight to complete installation work in early 2023” said Foster. “We remain about $37,000 shy of our overall fundraising goal.
“To upgrade the Dolby sound system including building and installing speakers and other equipment and we encourage movie fans to please help us cross the finish line for the sound system upgrade,” added Foster.
Contributions are accepted online via Netcommunity.GSU.edu/Give-to-Rialto by selecting the “Rialto Movie Screen Upgrades” designation in the pulldown menu. Organizations interested in booking venue options should contact Rialto Center Events Manager Christopher Duenow at 404-413-9814 or RialtoEvents@gsu.edu. Screen advertising and sponsorship naming rights options—to engage Rialto’s diverse audiences—are available; contact Foster via RialtoCenter@gsu.edu for details.
"We greatly appreciate the generous support of both of individual contributors as well as Georgia State University's support of the campaign,” said Foster. “They enabled Rialto to evolve from Where Atlanta Meets the World on stage to also include ‘on screen’ in the heart of downtown.”
Escobar said the Rialto’s elevated versatility is a feather in Atlanta’s cap of cinema event options.
“Previously it was expensive and complicated to host cinema events at Rialto, and now it will be so easy, affordable and convenient for both planners and audiences,” said Escobar. “Nearby parking, MARTA access, the venue’s massive lobby, Presidential Suite, backstage green room options all combine to place Rialto among the top contenders for film events.
“Now Atlanta has four cinema venues to suit capacity needs as well,” added Escobar. “The Plaza offers 40 to 324 seats, Tara Theatre is in the 200 to 500 seat range, Rialto accommodates 500 to 833, and The Fox has room for 2,000. Atlanta’s popular Dragon Con, for instance, could leverage one or a combination of these venues for new fan experiences.”
Williams, who joined the Rialto team as a projectionist in 2003 and earned his degree in motion picture studies at GSU, put the new film enhancements into perspective.
“Installing the new projector and screen is both professionally and personally fulfilling,” said Williams. “My grandfather attended silent films at the original Rialto, and now future generations of our family, and countless GSU students and Atlantans will be able to enjoy films here with the very latest technology.”
About the Rialto Center for the Arts
The Rialto Center for the Arts at GSU is the cultural centerpiece of downtown, located in the heart of Atlanta’s historic Fairlie-Poplar district. Thanks to GSU acquiring and refurbishing the building in 1993, and revitalizing the district, the Rialto has stood at the corner of Forsyth and Luckie Streets for over 100 years. Today the intimate, 833-seat performing arts venue is home to the Rialto Series, featuring the best of indigenous and international jazz, world music and contemporary dance, as well as Georgia State’s School of Music performances.
The Rialto is the go-to venue in downtown Atlanta for other arts organizations’ performances, visiting production companies and independent film screenings. In addition to the highly acclaimed Rialto Series, the Rialto is committed to serving the community through its extensive education and outreach programs on mission to advance creativity, innovation and the boundaries of imagination through engaging arts, education and entertainment. The Rialto earned its reputation as the place where Atlanta meets the world through its one-of-a-kind international programming, bringing together diverse communities and creating conversations about culture, art and history. In 2022, the Rialto Center was nominated for a Southeast Emmy® for a long-form online performance broadcast. Visit Rialto.GSU.edu to learn more.
About Georgia State University
Georgia State University, an enterprising public research university in the heart of Atlanta, is a national leader in graduating students from diverse backgrounds. The university provides its world-class faculty and more than 52,000 students with unsurpassed connections to the opportunities available in one of the 21st century’s great global cities.