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Written by Anne Tschida - BT Arts Editor   
September 2012

Wynwood’s O Cinema is bringing the art-house experience to Miami’s north side

ArtFeature_1The O Cinema independent movie theater in Wynwood opened about a year and a half ago, on February 24, 2011, to be exact. It was a much anticipated opening for an area trying to cement itself as an arts and cultural hub.

With a big Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant, O Cinema would be more than a place to show art films. It would add to the scene by mixing in art shows, studios, and interactive evenings (some very late-night ones, at that). The debut film was Mississippi Damned, a gritty, hard-luck story about three African-American kids trying to find a way out of the dead-end delta.

Next month, on October 13, O Cinema will expand to Miami Shores, through a partnership with the newly formed Miami Theater Center (MTC) -- which includes the former PlayGround Theatre -- to show approximately 250 films a year there. That’s quite a leap for the young organization, and quite a change for an area of Miami that has been bereft of film screenings for far too long. (See “Roll ’Em,” in this issue.)

Independent movie houses are notoriously hard to maintain and fund, not just in Miami-Dade, but the nation over, which is why the Knight grant was an essential kick-start to get a theater up, moving, then running with interesting programming.

With some fits and starts, O Cinema got there.

In its short life, some of the cinema’s more successful screenings have been indie and alt-art films. One film that O Cinema brought back four times was the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York, which followed the downtown life of the New York Times fashion photographer. Another audience winner: Crazy Horse, about the ultra-chic, Parisian nude-dancing club. In keeping with the ambiance of the French film, the theater served Champagne, according to co-founder and director Vivian Marthell.

ArtFeature_2Marthell has been an active participant in the Miami art scene for years as a visual artist and co-director of the (now defunct) alternative gallery space Lab6 and former staff member at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Along with Kareem Tabsch, she was determined to bring foreign, independent, and art films to the burgeoning north side of Miami. With the $400,000 matching Knight grant, Marthell and Tabsch opened up in a former gallery space across the street from the Rubell Family Collection on NW 29th Street. The cinema has a screening room, a bar, and smaller rooms that can be rented out as commercial or studio space.

“There was a learning curve, that’s true,” says Marthell about starting up O Cinema. “Unlike other cities, Miami is a special creature,” she explains. “Some films that may be great for Boston may not be so great for here. We bring in films that are conducive to quirky side events with the screenings.”

The result is a mixture of local, national, and international productions, which lend themselves to extracurricular activities. For instance, to accompany the showing of The Weird World of Blowfly (covered by the BT in “Nasty as Ever, and Not Yet Through,” September 2011), about Miami’s original dirty rapper, the cinema had DJ Le Spam spin early ’70s records after the screening.

Another big hit for the cinema, according to Marthell, was also related to music -- the documentary Marley, which the cinema complemented by serving a Jamaican-style dinner at one of the screenings. It also had success with Square Grouper, about the marijuana trade in our state, from Rakontur, the creators of Cocaine Cowboys.

ArtFeature_3All of the aforementioned films, interestingly enough, are documentaries, a genre that has gained prominence in the past decade, but which remains an art-house staple. One fictional standout for O Cinema, says Marthell, was the dark and disturbing latest venture from Lars von Trier, Melancholia.

In order to pinpoint specific offerings and then track them down, Marthell and Tabsch attend film festivals and panels around the country, hoping to get provocative, first-run films that will premiere here in South Florida. (Competition chiefly comes from the Miami Beach Cinematheque and the newly opened Coral Gables Art Cinema for premieres, although many of the films end up making the rounds of indie-houses across the nation.)

Kicking off in August, O Cinema added an art series (not arty films, but films about art) in collaboration with the nonprofit gallery Locust Projects, with an opening night that included a dinner catered by Harry’s Pizzeria. The inaugural film was Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a riveting documentary about the Chinese artist and activist, the man behind such internationally famous installations as Sun Flower Seeds, which covered the Tate Modern in London, and the Beijing National Stadium known as the Bird’s Nest, unveiled for the Olympics in 2008. (Ai would eventually be locked up for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese regime.)

Next up in this series: Another critically acclaimed film, about performance artist Marina Abramovic, opening September 14, followed by a film about the fin-de-siècle Viennese bad boy Egon Schiele, Portrait of Wally.

ArtFeature_4And of course there’s the new arrangement with Miami Theater Center, where O Cinema will show movies Thursdays through Sundays. For its first screening in the new setting, O Cinema has chosen Blue Skies, which was the film that opened the Miami Theater Center’s home, previously the Shores Theater, in 1946, when the large, single-screen theater was advertised as “the ultimate in sound reproduction” and was air conditioned. (Imagine that!)

The movie is a Technicolor musical starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Joan Caulfield. The screening on October 13, says Marthell, is a “tipping of the hat to the origins of this theater.”

As this inaugural movie suggests, the offerings in Miami Shores will be more family oriented -- from classics and documentaries to first-runs -- and somewhat less experimental than what will be shown farther south in Wynwood. “But we will continue to include ‘value-added’ stuff like we do in Wynwood,” explains Marthell. “We’ll have sing-alongs and other events to coincide with the screenings.”

Back in Wynwood, O Cinema will jumpstart September with an interactive series titled “I’m Not Gonna Move to L.A.,” a reference to the spate of Miami artists who have recently transplanted to the West Coast. The night will feature “seven local filmmakers, one band, one comedian, and one food truck” for a three-hour happening on Wednesday, September 5.

Says Marthell: “We’re trying to bring as much to this area of Miami as we can.”

 

O Cinema, 90 NW 29th St., 305-571-9970; www.o-cinema.org.

 

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