O Cinema, the nonprofit movie theater launched in 2011 that has become a beloved bastion of independent and alternative cinema in Miami-Dade, is expanding into new but familiar digs in South Beach.
Kareem Tabsch and Vivian Marthell, who co-founded O Cinema, are taking over operations of the Miami Beach Cinematheque, the boutique art house cinema at 1130 Washington Avenue, effective Aug. 1.
Under its new name, O Cinema South Beach, the theater will screen the kind of first-run, foreign-language and alternative fare that earned O Cinema a devoted following at its former location in Wynwood. That theater, which helped to pioneer Wynwood’s resurgence as an arts and culture district, closed in March to make way for a 189-unit apartment building.
Dana Keith opened the Cinematheque at its original location on Española Way in 2003 to provide a permanent home for the Miami Beach Film Society, which he founded in 1993. The theater relocated to its current Washington Avenue home inside the historic City Hall building in 2010. The 75-seat venue doubles as an event space, an elegant gallery of film-related art and an extensive archive of historical movie books and reference materials.
Last October, Keith decided to expand the Miami Beach Cinematheque Interactive Archive Project, an ambitious curation of film memorabilia funded by a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge grant, to similar venues around the world. The project, though, would not leave him enough time to oversee the Cinematheque’s day-to-day operations.
“Dana told us the lease for the space was coming up for renewal and he thought it was time for a shift,” Tabsch said. “He’s been operating the Cinematheque day in and day out as a one-man show for almost 20 years and created a haven for film lovers. But he wants to dedicate himself to the archival project and no longer has the time to do both things.”
Despite the new name, Keith will continue ongoing Miami Beach Film Society programming at O Cinema South Beach such as its “Museum and a Movie” partnership with the Wolfsonian-FIU and its “Speaking in Cinema” series that pairs local and international film critics with filmmakers for live discussions of their work.
“This partnership is a perfect way for the Miami Beach Film Society to continue its programming at the same home that it built and operated for ten years, while traveling to cinematheques and museums around the world to form new partnerships with the Interactive Archive Project,” Keith said. “I am happy that the timing is also right for our art film colleagues and friends at O Cinema to operate the venue itself, and I couldn’t think of better stewards to keep it moving and growing.”
The timing for the South Beach location comes at a critical point for O Cinema, which is preparing to vacate its current North Beach home at 500 71st Street at the end of October, when its lease runs out.
The city informed Tabsch and Marthell that their lease could not be renewed because the building, the former home of the Byron Carlyle Theater, is more than 50 years old and needs recertification. The city has received two competing bids to redevelop the property: One proposes an 11-story hotel, while another proposes a seven-story microunit apartment building.
Tabsch said whichever project ends up being built will be required to have a 10,000 square-foot cultural space — which could potentially include a new incarnation of the O Cinema Miami Beach location.
“North Beach has been our home for the past five years and we’re proud to be part of this diverse and vibrant community that is in the midst of significant change,” Marthell said. “We’re working with the City of Miami Beach on some innovative solutions that will keep O Cinema programming and present in North Beach while we work towards finding a long-term home in the area.”
According to Tabsch, upcoming programming for the new O Cinema South Beach includes the Sundance Film Festival hit “The Mountain” starring Jeff Goldblum (opening Aug. 9); the documentary “This Changes Everything,” which explores the global warming crisis through an international lens (Aug. 16); “Honeyland,” a nonfiction portrait of a Macedonian beekeeper and her feud with her neighbors (Aug. 16); and the newly restored, 40th anniversary final cut of “Apocalypse Now” (date to be determined).
The theater will also serve as the official venue for the inaugural Slamdance Miami Film Festival, running May 28-31, 2020, and will continue its collaboration with Oolite Arts to screen films made by, for and about artists.
“O Cinema would not exist were it not for the pioneering efforts of Dana Keith and the Miami Beach Film Society,” Tabsch said. “We look forward to building upon that legacy through this partnership that will bring a mixed-approach to programming throughout the year and ensure that arts and culture continue to thrive on Washington Avenue in the heart of South Beach.”