AJC - A special ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ celebration 25 years later

Fri, 04/01/2016 - 15:05
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AJC - A special ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ celebration 25 years later
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BY Jennifer Brett

JULIETTE — A few days before the 25th anniversary screening of the movie that brought this tiny spot on the map back to life and kept it going, we rolled in at the speed of grass growing.

That’s a slight exaggeration — we got stuck behind a tractor — but it’s just as well. This is not a place you want to zoom past.

“It’s a step back in time,” said Judy Ruffin, who works in a shop on the little main drag of this unincorporated section of Monroe County.

This weekend, the Atlanta Film Festival is offering a step back 25 years in time, with a screening of “Fried Green Tomatoes.” The movie, based on Fannie Flagg’s novel, filmed scenes at other locations, including Agnes Scott College, but chiefly in Juliette, which stood in for fictional Whistle Stop, Ala.

“One of the nicest things I’ve heard about the movie is a lot of people felt like I got the South right,” said director Jon Avnet. “For a Brooklyn-born boy, that was quite an accomplishment.”

The building that now houses the Whistle Stop Cafe used to be a general store, and was vacant when location scouts came calling. The movie flashes back and forth through time, and the kudzu covering was perfect for modern-day scenes.

“It was kind of a big leap to imagine it coming back to life, but there were two stories — where the town was alive and after the flip switched,” Avnet said. “I thought, this could be Whistle Stop. And it was.”

And still is.

After the movie finished filming, the main drag remained as Hollywood left it. The former general store still houses the Whistle Stop Cafe, where folks line up in the morning and sometimes wait an hour to get inside for the signature menu item, Ruffin said. She’s not mad about the pace; folks with time on their hands make good potential customers.

“It resurrected this little town. Before the movie, Juliette was a ghost town,” said Ruffin, who works in her friend Delores Hayes’ antiques and collectibles shop, called Purple Hayes. “I am amazed at how popular the movie still is. They come from Canada, Connecticut, New York City, you name it. There was this one man — bless his heart — he was from somewhere up North and said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad to be here.’ They come from everywhere just to see Juliette.”

Chris Escobar, executive director of the Atlanta Film Festival, is excited to feature the home-grown product on this year’s menu. Georgia native Jack McBrayer, an actor and comedian known for roles on shows including “30 Rock” and “The Middle,” will introduce the film.

“The movie itself is kind of timeless,” Escobar said. “There are so many characters to identify with. There are some heavy issues — there’s domestic abuse, people who die — but it’s also about creating a family of people who aren’t necessarily related to you. It’s about taking power of your life. That’s timeless.”

EVENT PREVIEW

A 25th anniversary screening of “Fried Green Tomatoes” is planned for noon Sunday at the Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. N.E., Atlanta. The screening is free but you must RSVP at sched.co/6Qzg.

The “Food on Film” after-party is from 2-4:30 p.m. Sunday at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, 980 Briarcliff Road N.E., Atlanta. Tickets are $20. See sched.co/6Qzh.