Kool Kat Of The Week: Ben Ruder Smuggles Some Contraband Cinema into The Plaza

Plaza Manager/Projectionist Ben Ruder loves film so much it even tastes good.

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

Ben Ruder is one of the unsung heroes of Atlanta.

As chief projectionist and manager of The Plaza Theatre, he’s a cinephile who keeps the art and pleasure of movie-going alive in an era of digital downloads, streaming and DVD boredom. You can train a monkey to run the 16 digital projectors at a chain-run multiplex; but knowing how to repair an actual film print, especially an old one, and project it properly is a skill that’s sadly coming to the end of the reel. Ruder is one of that dying breed – a real projectionist who cares about the experience patrons have when they see a movie at The Plaza. Now, along with other like-minded lovers of celluloid, he’s starting to program CONTRABAND CINEMA, an ongoing, eclectic selection of rare films in a variety of formats (Super-8, 16mm; everything from avant garde to rare, archival, educational films, and personal Underground artistic expressions). The first show is this Thursday, October 6 at 8 p.m. at The Plaza – and that’s why he’s our Kool Kat of the Week.

Ben took time out from his busy schedule to share the details on what promises to be a fascinating kick-off for a series of eye-treats for Atlantans who are tired of the same old Studio produced rubbish cluttering up area multiplexes. He also shared a little bit about his company RUDERMEDIA, his personal love affair with film on film and why helping owners Jonathan and Gayle Rej to preserve the Plaza is such a passion.

ATLRetro: How did CONTRABAND CINEMA evolve?

BEN: Contraband Cinema is an Atlanta-based micro-cinema safehouse based on, inspired by and executed under the guidance of Craig Baldwin‘s Other Cinema in San Francisco – an ongoing series of experimental film, video and performance. Contraband Cinema strives to select the best work locally and around the world, transplant it to the south, and nurture it through close collaboration with regional filmmakers, curators and established film institutions.

Contraband Cinema is operated by Marcus Rosentrater and Gideon Kennedy. Marcus and I have talked about doing something together for a while, as he is a regular volunteer for us at the Plaza. We are both big fans of the medium of film and wanted to share hard-to-obtain materials with other cinephiles. Through my company RUDERMEDIA, I am assisting Marcus with locations, equipment, and providing “Film Education” programming which takes a look at educational shorts shown in the classroom, as well as teaching the attendees lessons on how 16mm projection works as well as what goes into film preservation and restoration. I secured The Plaza for this first event, but we’ll be in several nontraditional screening spaces for future shows.

This month we’ll also have a “photobooth” set up in the lobby before and after the screening where you get 5 seconds of time in front of a Super 8mm camera which will be screened at a future event, as well as posted online after processing.

So there will be more screenings?

Several screenings are currently planned and we are gathering materials and booking spaces. The next three shows are:


Experiments in Terror! Thursday Oct. 27 at Arts Exchange; a program co-curated by Buried Alive Film Festival‘s Blake Myers. Sneak peek at the line-up: Kenneth Anger‘s INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (1969) featuring the Rolling Stones, on 16mm; Sam Green hunts for the tomb of Meredith Hunter who was murdered by the Hell’s Angels at a Rolling Stones concert; and two award-winning shorts by director, photographer and boogie man Phil Mucci. Come in costume! Admission $6.66. More details coming soon.

Optronica! November; a live audio/visual programming featuring local artists and filmmakers.

Avant To Live December; An exhibition of what’s now in avant-garde cinema in our region and the world.

Contraband Cinema is planning on six shows in the winter/spring of 2012, and expects to have a full calendar released within a few months. RUDERMEDIA will have a presence in at least several of these programs.

Some of the material to be screened is in 16mm –  does this mean The Plaza is now 16mm-friendly/permanently equipped?

This month all of the material is presented on 16mm. The Plaza currently does not have the professional 16mm setup that they need. I am bringing in my personal equipment which consists of portable projectors previously used in classrooms, keeping in line with the programming that I’ll be providing to the series. All of my films are shorts used in classrooms and are intended for K-12 students to teach them about the world around them and the world that they will soon inherit.

What started your personal love of movies?

Growing up I was always a bigger fan of TV programming, especially sports, and decided early on that I would work in that field, which I did for nearly a decade. When I did watch movies, I would rent from this independent store a block from our house and picked up anything with awesome-looking VHS cover art. Horror and sci-fi were often the most chosen. I never saw a lot of films in a theater setting until I began working for a movie chain in my hometown, St. Louis, in my senior year of high school. That’s when I really fell in love with the medium of film and trained as a projectionist. I worked at and managed several theaters in town until I left for film school in 1997. I have been at The Plaza as a projectionist since July 2007 and manager since April of 2010.

How important are movie theaters like The Plaza in keeping “real” movie-going alive?

In the current age where studios are cutting costs and trying to battle Internet piracy and other home distribution, [it] means there is a lot less “art” involved in the exhibition industry. Digital cinema is easily controlled by a computer, and it loses all of the showmanship that theaters have provided for nearly a century. Going to a show was once a grand evening out, versus some of today’s fast food, one-size-fits-all megaplex experiences. There are many theatres similar to the Plaza all over the country that are fighting to hold on to what makes the movie-going experience special. The Plaza believes that when people gather to see a movie, they should get much more than what they can get at home with a DVD or an Internet stream. That’s why events like Splatter Cinema, Art Opening & A Movie, and Silver Scream Spookshow are so popular.

Seeing a 35mm presentation, even with its “imperfections,” is becoming more and more of a rarity, and the Plaza is the last place in town to provide the personal attention needed to keep that experience alive, although we do face many struggles in order to keep it going. The non-profit Plaza Theatre Foundation has been a great help to us, creating a haven for local content creators to gather, supplementing the staff with community volunteers, and financial donations, but we have a long, long way to go. It has been a rough summer for us, and there will be several changes coming soon.

When you are not screening/watching movies/collecting old prints and trailers, what do you do for fun?

The Plaza takes up a lot of my time, but I enjoy restoring vintage electronics, discovering classic music on LP and collecting advertising memorabilia. I have two adorable cats, CatZilla and PlazaSaur, who keep me entertained with their crazy adventures. I also have a few creative projects in the works including a few short stories, a creepy horror short film, and an avante garde environmental film. The films will of course be shot on Super 8.

Mark Your Calendars for More Reel Special Screenings at The Plaza This Month:

Art Opening & A Movie Presents NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984). Tues. Oct. 4 at 9:30 p.m.; Fri. Oct. 7 at 9:30 p.m. Read our Retro Review here.

BEYOND THE MYTH (2011). Sat. Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. World premiere of a new documentary about pitbulls.

Splatter Cinema Presents THE EVIL DEAD II (1987). Tues. Oct. 11 at 9:30 p.m.

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963). Sat. Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. (kids matinee) and 10 p.m. (adult show).

Splatter Cinema Presents ZOMBIE (1979). Fri. Oct. 21 at 9:30 p.m.

DEAR GOD NO! (2011) Oct. 22-27. Neo-exploitation horror filmed in 16 mm and directed by local filmmaker James Bickert.

THE ROOM (2003) Tues. Oct. 25 at 9:30 p.m. Monthly screening sponsored by Fantasyland Records.

ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) Every Fri. at Midnight. Live Performance by Lips Down on Dixie.

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3 Responses to “Kool Kat Of The Week: Ben Ruder Smuggles Some Contraband Cinema into The Plaza”

  1. Joan Tebeau
    on Oct 6th, 2011
    @ 1:56 pm

    Totally awsome. Can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

  2. Georgeanna Junebug
    on Oct 16th, 2011
    @ 1:52 pm

    Way to go, Uncle Ben!

  3. Greg Ruder
    on Nov 9th, 2011
    @ 4:26 pm

    You go Bro!

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