Atlanta’s historic Rialto is reclaiming its roots as an urban moviehouse. The performing arts center is nearing completion of a $350,000 installation for an upgraded projector and screen equipment, with about $37,000 still needed to reach the fundraising goal. 

Fundraising is led by Rialto Advisory Board Vice Chair Christopher Escobar —  recognized for his leadership of the Atlanta Film Society, Atlanta Film Festival, the Plaza Theatre and the return of the Tara Theatre — and Rialto Production Manager Michael Williams, a Georgia State graduate and the founder of the student-run Cinefest. Many other community members are assisting with multi-year planning and purchasing new projection and screen equipment. 

“This installation creates a world-class movie premiere destination in the heart of the South’s thriving film community,” said Escobar in a press release. “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.”

The storied Rialto — a name meaning marketplace or exchange — opened in 1916 as the Piedmont Theatre. Located in downtown Atlanta on the corner of Luckie and Forsyth, the 916-seat theater was the largest in the Southeast at that time. In 1917, Cleopatra was shown at the Rialto to a sold-out house, and by the 1950s, the theater had gained notoriety as the biggest presenter of Walt Disney films. Business looked promising, and, in 1962, the original theater building was demolished to build a larger 1200-seat facility. Yet, after Carmike Cinemas purchased the Rialto in 1982, sales declined until the doors finally closed in 1989. Georgia Tech acquired the property a few years later, and, in 1996, the new Rialto Center of the Arts emerged as a home for special events and even an early screening of Eleanor Coppola’s Coda: Thirty Years Later.

Following recent renovations and installations for the upgraded screen and projector, the Rialto will host special screenings for the Atlanta Film Festival in late April and offer festival goers the opportunity to experience the updates. The Rialto will join the new Tara, the Plaza and the Fox Theatre in offering a complete suite of high-tech and historic film projection capabilities.

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