Theater / Film
Film, Media Preservationists Get Boost From Challenge Grants
Three recipients of last year’s Knight Arts Challenge grants are preserving media from the past and using the grant money to get their message of the value of vintage to the masses. And what a difference a year makes.
Kevin Arrow and Barron Sherer of Obsolete Media Miami (OMM) are collectors. Nayib Estefan of Secret Celluloid Society is a preservationist. The vintagists say that while they were passionate about their own ideas, the matching grants put their respective brands on the map. “The grant sent us from zero to 100 in the course of a blink an eye,” says Arrow, whose Obsolete Media Miami had only been in existence “three, four or maybe five months” before the award was announced.
Last year, 53 winners received grant money. This year’s challenge offers a share of $2.5 million. “We pretty much went into our alpha and beta stage simultaneously the minute we found out. People started contacting us and picking up the phone when we’d call them,” says Arrow. “It was a validation of what we were doing to receive the Knight acknowledgement.”
OMM’s Design District studio – a space subsidized by Craig Robins’ Dacra Company above Harry’s Pizzeria on North Miami Avenue — is a storehouse of picture and film archives, plus pre-digital age equipment. “The Knight grant allowed me to move from the back of my house and Kevin to move from his garage. We combined our studios,” says Sherer.
The concept was to make the space an open studio “to have people see what we do and see what we’re inspired by the content we collect or the nostalgia we’ve developed over the years.” That content ranges from 35mm slides and slide projectors, to Sherer’s latest gadget, an optical printer. He admits it makes him giddy just thinking about all the things he can do with the OP. “It’s really a way to make collage films.” OMM is planning on having open studio sessions with former professors from Miami Dade College, who understand the workings of the optical printer, which was a film school staple back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Arrow continues his work with slide-based media. The artist has been collecting and archiving hundreds of “found” 35mm slides for decades. Last summer, as part of Locust Projects’ LAB (Locust Art Builders) program, 20-plus Miami Dade High School students came to the studio for a hands-on workshop. “I passed around a bunch of 35mm slides. The kids had never seen a slide.” Arrow taught them how to manipulate and work with the slides to create reconstituted works of art.
Part of the grant was to bring programming to OMM studios, which the pair did in March, with the film screening and appearance of artist, filmmaker, and poet Jonas Mekas. “The response was overwhelming from the community,” says Arrow. OMM is also working with other Knight Arts Challenge recipients. “The grants enable KAC recipients to collaborate since there is funding to do it,” he says.
They are joining forces with O, Miami on Thursday, April 28, for the appearance by poet and performance artist John Giorno at the ICA Miami. OMM is presenting a 16mm film and a changing 35mm slides installation, utilizing three slide screens of various sizes.
Estefan’s Secret Celluloid Society programs movie nights that spotlights 35mm retro films. He recently moved his wildly inventive screenings to O, Cinema Miami Beach from Coral Gables Art Cinema. “It’s surreal for me to be there at the Byron Carlisle [theater]. I used to go there when I was younger. It’s difficult to find a vintage cinema in Miami and even though it’s rebranded as O, what’s at the heart of the cinema is that it has been waiting for the old ghosts to be awakened,” says Estefan, whose mother and father are Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
He’ll try to wake up ghosts literally on Mother’s Day, May 7, when he hosts a Joan Crawford séance before showing the 1981 lavishly, over the top Mommie Dearest in glorious 35mm.
Funds from his programming will go to the finalization of the idea that nabbed him the challenge grant – a bookmobile-turned-traveling 35mm movie theater.
“We’re putting dual 35mm archival projection into a bookmobile. It’s met with challenges – electricity and insulation, for instance, but it’s almost ready to go and I’m excited to roll out what we can do with it.”
The film-mobile will be a traveling projection booth. Estefan’s idea is to expose Miami to the beauty of 35mm films shown outdoors. “It’s kind of like the model of the old drive-in, which had a fixed projection booth.” Film will unspool from a projector in the vehicle, which will be projected onto a wall or an inflatable screen.
“We can instantly turn anywhere into a drive-in or turn a park into an outdoor cinema,” says Estefan.
The Knight Arts Challenge has invested more than $122 million in the Miami arts since 2005. There are three rules for submissions: The idea must be about the arts, the project must take place in or benefit South Florida, and the grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.
“Through the Arts Challenge, Knight Foundation has funded a range of ideas and disciplines,” says Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. “Over the past few years, though, we’ve seen a growing number of submissions from Miami’s indie filmmakers, many of whom are getting national and international attention for their work. Our role is ensure that Miami has a network of peers and resources where their ideas can grow,”
Arrow gives tips to anyone who wants to apply for the grant. “Jot down ideas all year in a notebook and then when the time of year comes to apply, you just submit 150 words. You put your elevator pitch down on paper and make your idea sound enticing. Invite the readers to want to hear more. Then you’ll make it to the next round.”
Apply at knightarts.org. Deadline is Monday, May 2.