Coral Gables

Coral Gables Art Cinema wins national science grant

Robert Rosenberg’s first love was the unspooling of the DNA chain rather than the unspooling of film out of canisters. But the cinema director of Coral Gables Art Cinema finds his worlds merging as his theater kicks off its third year this month.

The 144-seat, two-story art house and gallery, built out of a parking garage on Aragon Avenue, has won its first national honor.

On Monday, The Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation named 20 independent nonprofit cinemas as grant recipients in the national Science on Screen initiative. Coral Gables Art Cinema was the sole South Florida winner and receives $7,000.

The idea behind the grant is to help winning theaters showcase films with a science or technology bent and pair the screenings with talk-backs by science and technology experts. “We use film as a foundation to engage the public in science, to present scientific concepts in ways that are interesting and fun,” said Cheryl White, Science on Screen program manager for the Coolidge, in Brookline, Mass.

The Science on Screen series serves as a diving board for the guest scientists to explore the topics in ways that engage audiences of all ages. Rosenberg, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Massachusetts’s Hampshire College in 1977, expects programming to begin after the new year although his mind is already swirling with ideas for coming films. Each theater is required to show at least three Science on Screen programs over the course of the grant’s 10-month period.

“We’re really excited,” Rosenberg said. “We’re just about to hit our three-year anniversary and that’s our first nationally competitive grant I worked in a microbiology lab before I switched to films, my first love was science, so this is a natural thing for me to do and a great fit for the theater.”

White said the 10-member panel of scientists and film industry personnel look for theaters that have a staff with a level of enthusiasm and understanding of scientific and technological resources in the local community. Outreach and educational activities are weighed as well.

“Coral Gables Art Cinema opened in 2010 and they have, in a couple years, become one of the major art houses in the southeast. They show shorts before their theatrical films. They’ve done panel discussions, a summer film camp, ongoing cultural activities. All these things speak well for this initiative which is community based and Robert has a personal passion for science,” White said from her office in Boston.

Past programming examples include a pairing of Wes Anderson’s coming-of-age Rushmore with a scientific presentation on the adolescent brain. Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder led to a discussion of how the brain perceives the world in three dimensions. The cult horror film Tremors brought out seismologists.

This week’s No. 1 box office hit, Gravity, which features Sandra Bullock as an astronaut adrift in the cosmos, could be a natural fit to inspire discussion with, say, NASA scientists who could explain weightlessness in space.

“That would absolutely lend itself,” White said. “It’s not just older films but new releases are definitely candidates. Gravity is a perfect example.”

The Gables theater taps into experts from the nearby University of Miami, Florida International University and Miami Dade College.

“Within a one-year cycle, we have plenty of opportunities to be creative,” Rosenberg said.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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