After more than a year of hosting wild midnight screenings of cult and classic movies at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, the Secret Celluloid Society is moving to bigger digs at O Cinema Miami Beach.
“We’re moving because I’m tired of turning people away,” said Secret Celluloid Society (SCS) founder Nayib Estefan. “We’re having to turn away between 80 to 100 people every week and I don’t want to do that. At the new place, we’re doubling the capacity and doubling the experience.”
Located at 500 71st St., the former home of the Byron-Carlyle theater built in 1968, O Cinema Miami Beach expands the seating capacity of the Gables cinema, from 140 to 304 seats. The larger lobby will allow Estefan to enrichen the SCS experience with multi-media elements catered to each showing, photo booths and sales of VHS mix-tapes of rare short films and other oddities.
“We had talked with Nayib in the past about collaborating on some things but it didn’t come to pass,” says Kareem Tabsch, co-founder and co-director of O Cinema, which has additional venues in Wynwood and Miami Shores. “We share a work ethic and a passion for film in all its forms, so this was a natural pairing. It’s also perfect match for the neighborhood, because there’s a resurgence going on in North Beach. Parking is free and there’s a multitude of restaurants nearby.”
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Estefan launched SCS with a poolside screening of Superfuzz at the Broken Shaker bar at the Freehand Hotel on Miami Beach in 2013, then relocated to the Blue Starlight Mini Drive-in’s former Wynwood location with showings of Scarface and The Gate. Encouraged by the turnout, he launched a weekly Wednesday nights series at Shirley’s, a screening room designed after the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks in the rear of Wynwood’s Gramps bar.
In October 2014, the SCS launched its first “After Hours” midnight screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema with 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Estefan’s official residency at the non-profit arthouse started two months later with the 1976 Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same. Since then, he has hosted more than 100 screenings of movies such as Eraserhead, Blade Runner, Scarface, Goodfellas, The Wild Bunch and 2001: A Space Odyssey – almost all of them projected on 35mm film whenever possible.
“Our audience has grown in the best way possible: Word of mouth,” says Estefan. “The underlying concept behind SCS is that you’re going to have a fun time. Even with minimal promotion, our audience expanded and word got out from the excitement of people who had attended previous shows.”
Highlights from Estefan’s stint at the Gables cinema include a screening of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with composer Stephen Trask and Tony award-winner Lena Hall in attendance (they serenaded the audience with two songs before the movie); actor Paul Williams introducing Brian De Palma’s camp-horror musical Phantom of the Paradise; and playwright/director John Cameron Mitchell coming to a showing of David Bowie fantasy Labyrinth simply because he had never seen the movie before.
“Nayib has been instrumental in raising the awareness and heritage of film in our community,” says Steven Krams, president of the Coral Gables Cinematheque, the non-profit film arts organization that runs the Gables cinema. “We send him many thanks for his great work in developing the cinema’s “After Hours” program. The board and staff wish him well going forward.”
Estefan will finish his scheduled March program of films at the Gables, which include Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the zombie comedy Return of the Living Dead and the rarely-screened 1987 martial-arts rarity Miami Connection. The final showing at the theater will be Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz on April 2.
SCS will move to Miami Beach the following week with The Matrix on April 9, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory on April 16 and Natural Born Killers on April 23, all projected on 35mm film.
“My friend compared the Secret Celluloid Society to a hermit crab that is able to change shells when they outgrow them, which is what we’re doing again,” Estefan says. “I’m really appreciative of O Cinema to allow me to raise the bar. We will have a lot more room and more leeway to make it even stranger. You can still expect the same subversive irreverence, but turned up to 12 instead of 11. By playing these old movies in this old theater, we’re going to wake up some ghosts.”