O Cinema’s Kareem Tabsch Talks Film MAGIC at Creative Mornings

Written By Josie Gulliksen
September 29, 2016 at 1:51 PM

O Cinema’s Kareem Tabsch Talks Film MAGIC at Creative Mornings

O Cinema co-founder Kareem Tabsch let the audience at a recent Creative Mornings event into his quirky world of film and filmmaking. Attendees sat transfixed as he presented a talk on the MAGIC of cinema and film.

A Miami native, Tabsch was raised in Carol City (now known as the City of Miami Gardens) and was more than eager to leave Miami to pursue his dreams. He felt there wasn’t much going on in Miami in the way of film. But he knew he wanted a life in the arts.

He shared in a profile on this blog of O Cinema that he and co-founder Vivian Marthell had to travel to Toronto and New York to see films they were interested in because they weren’t being screened in Miami. 

“South Florida is a weird place and I thought it lacked culture. I used to watch PBS as a kid, I was definitely the weird one in the family,” said Tabsch.

Turns out, he ended up staying in Miami and thanks to that, we now have O Cinema in Wynwood, Miami Shores and North Beach. But it wasn’t always three venues. He recalls when it was just an idea, a dream of his and Marthell to start a theater where they could show those films Miami was lacking.

So after a nine-year stint with the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Tabsch and Martell embarked on their adventure. It started out simple, “with folding chairs and a sheet stapled to the wall.”

But that set up was short-lived thanks to the Knight Foundation and their Knight Arts Challenge grant. A simple 130-word description of their idea wound up getting awarded $400,000. Tabsch repeatedly praised and credited the Knight Foundation with helping O Cinema become a reality. “The Knight Foundation fosters an environment of creativity,” he said.

With the funds in place, Tabsch and Martell set out to “show movies that weren’t being screened elsewhere,” he said. “We have spent a lifetime getting away from the Miami image of Miami Vice, Scarface and The Golden Girls.

The mission is to show there’s a whole world outside and connect the rest of the world to our community. They’re doing that by showing films like Tangerine shot entirely on an iPhone with an all-transgender cast and part of last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Or The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Marley, Dear White People and Nas: Time is Illmatic.

“Black films were being turned away by other local cinemas but we stuck to our guns and what we believe in,” he said. “We have gained the reputation as a premier place to see films about the black experience.”

Making an impact and creating a magical experience is what O Cinema is all about. He told the story of a couple who had their first date at the Wynwood location and have since come back and brought their kids to see a family film there. Tabsch was smiling the whole time he told the story.

They are also producing plenty of festivals and special screenings that have brought in packed houses to both Wynwood and North Beach. The Back to the Future marathon showing of all four films in Wynwood was a huge hit and the films were screened on the day in 2015 that they go to the future in the first film. And at Byron Carlyle in North Beach the screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween the past two years has been a sellout.

Tabsch also credited his success to his staff because “surrounding myself with good, smart, passionate people – that’s when the true magic happens.” He admitted that he is a naysayer when his staff approaches him about ideas to screen films that may be too commercial.

The Back to the Future marathon and Popcorn Fright Nights Film Festival were both ideas the staff had to convince him to present, yet they’ve become incredibly popular.

Coming up they will be presenting the Vanguard Film Festival during the iii Points Festival and showing Moonlight, a film made in Miami and featured in the Telluride, Toronto and New York Film Festivals. It was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Barry Jenkins, both of Miami.

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