Indie Film Cinema Profile: Meet O Cinema
With just five years in existence, the expansion of O Cinema and their explosion onto the arthouse scene in Miami is impressive. Its creation was inspired by two friends who realized the lack of movie options in Miami and decided to do something about it.
Co-founders Kareem Tabsch and Vivian Marthell, now co-directors of O Cinema, were traveling to Toronto and New York to see film that were not being shown in Miami. They found themselves missing time with friends and enjoying other aspects of Miami because of it so, rather than keep complaining, they took action.
“We decided to be part of the solution and brazenly declared we were going to open a movie theater. We were committed to doing so even if that meant stapling a bed sheet to the wall as our movie screen and putting out folding chairs,” said Tabsch.
Like with most other start up arts ventures in Miami, they applied for and became recipients of the Knight Arts Challenge in 2009. Unfortunately, that’s when the global economy collapsed so they struggled to get the project off the ground initially. However, thanks to the Knight Foundation’s encouragement, assistance and patience as well as support from the community, they opened their doors in Wynwood in 2011.
They then expanded to both Miami Shores, offering screenings inside the Miami Theater Center, and a year and a half ago took over the old Byron Carlyle Theater in North Beach on 71st Street. Their friend and filmmaker Jonathan David Kane was instrumental in connecting them with the city staff on Miami Beach, who were familiar with their work and eager to bring them to North Beach.
It was an ideal fit and has received great community response to the point where it has exceeded their projections. That is in large part due to city officials.
“We value the work ethic of the city staff and the leadership of the City Commission, City Manager and Mayor in revitalizing North Beach, and they were all clear that arts would be an integral component of making that happen and wanted O Cinema there,” Tabsch said.
One of their latest additions at North Beach O Cinema is the Secret Celluloid Society with Nayib Estefan. Estefan has been a friend of O Cinema’s for a while and they basically had a mutual admiration for what the other was doing. They’d discussed collaborating several times and that came to fruition when Estefan outgrew his space at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, where he was running the Society.
O Cinema was a natural choice for Estefan, who had fond memories of going to the movies at the Byron Carlyle Theater growing up.
“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with Secret Celluloid Society for what I’m calling their Beach residency. It’s going to bring back the midnight movie experience to Miami Beach and give a chance for those of us who live in the northern quadrant of the city to experience the joyful madness of SCS without having to go across town,” said Tabsch. “A huge theater, huge screen, stellar 35mm projection and free parking all coupled with a stellar slate of films, what’s not to be excited about.”
O also has a strong partnership with the Miami Film Festival, being an official venue for them for the past four years. They also became the official home of the Miami Jewish Film Festival three years ago and work closely with the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, FilmGate, and Borscht Film Festival. In addition, they are co-presenters of Popcorn Fights, South Florida’s only horror and genre film festival “which comes back to O Cinema Wynwood this August. Just as importantly, we’re big supporters of Miami’s film community,” he said.
It’s these diverse partnerships that Tabsch feels are at the heart of what they bring to Miami’s film community. They strive to ensure they show the best in independent, foreign, and art films while also representing Miami’s diverse cultural make up. Their eclectic mix of films speak to the Jewish, gay, Hispanic, and African-American communities. It’s all presented in a laid-back environment, which is also important.
“We believe that movie going should be a neighborhood experience and we believe in the importance of the neighborhood theater as both an economic driver and a cultural touchstone for communities,” Tabsch said. “So when you walk into any O Cinema what you’ll find is a friendly and thoughtful staff who are happy to have you visit, and a slate of films that will keep you wanting to come back.”
Some of the proudest moments so far for Tabsch and the O Cinema staff were presenting the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, with Sweat Records, showing the Oscar-winning film Spotlight and having all the real life journalists represented in the film present at the screening. The 10th Anniversary celebration screening of Rakontur Film’s Cocaine Cowboys and the Halloween screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
And the new ideas and collaboration never end. In the near future they’ll be developing a children and family series at the Beach location, formulating filmmaker retrospectives, and showcasing rotating year-round exhibitions from the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s permanent collection.
“Every day we ask ourselves what more we can do to better serve Miami’s film loving community,” he said.
See what’s happening at all the theaters on their website www.o-cinema.org.