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O Cinema is returning to Wynwood — but in a radically different model

O Cinema co-founders Vivian Marthell and Kareem Tabsch at the popcorn stand of O Cinema Wynwood during its grand opening in 2011.
O Cinema co-founders Vivian Marthell and Kareem Tabsch at the popcorn stand of O Cinema Wynwood during its grand opening in 2011. El Nuevo Herald

The founders of O Cinema Wynwood, the art house theater that was a cultural pioneer in the hipster-haven neighborhood, are coming home to their original turf.

O Cinema co-founders Kareem Tabsch and Vivian Marthell, in collaboration with the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID), will curate monthly film screenings to be held at various locations around Wynwood. The screenings will be held at 7 p.m. on the last Sunday of every month and will be free to the public.

The initial slate of titles will all be shown outdoors. The lineup features the Tim Burton comedy “Beetlejuice” on Oct. 27 at Gramps, 176 NW 24th Street; the Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” on Nov. 24 at a location to be determined; “Home Alone” on Dec. 29 at Wynwood Marketplace, 2250 NW Second Ave.; “The Matrix” on Jan. 26, also at Wynwood Marketplace; and Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight” on Feb. 23 at a location to be determined.

Despite its popularity, O Cinema Wynwood, which opened in 2011 at 56 NW 29th Street, was forced to permanently shutter its doors in March 2019 to make way for an 11-story apartment building from the Miami-based Lennar Corp.

“From the moment O Cinema announced our Wynwood theater was closing, we were bombarded with so much love from the community,” Tabsch said. “It’s a very special place for us because it’s where it all started for us and we were very proud of our contribution to the neighborhood.”

Tabsch said one of the people who reached out was Albert Garcia, chairman of the Wynwood BID, who wanted to figure out a way to keep O Cinema in the neighborhood.

“O Cinema is a cultural icon in South Florida and a home for independent cinema,” said Garcia. “We were just as blindsided by the news of their closing as everyone else. As a longtime property owner in Wynwood as well as a member of the BID, it was important to me to see how we could keep O Cinema here.”

The eventual solution: O Cinema will curate a film series that is free and accessible and draw more visitors to the area by holding screenings at various spots around the entire 50-block district to encourage pedestrian traffic.

The BID is underwriting 100 percent of the series, from rights fees to the necessary equipment and technical infrastructure.

The original O Cinema Wynwood location at 90 NW 29th Street opened its doors in 2011 and closed in March 2019.

In August, O Cinema took over operations of the Miami Beach Cinematheque, the boutique art cinema on Washington Avenue, and rebranded the venue O Cinema South Beach.

The O Cinema Miami Beach location, located at 500 71st Street in North Beach, will close permanently at the end of October, when the current lease runs out.

Tabsch said that his previous experience curating a season of free public screenings at the New World Symphony’s Soundscape Park gave him ideas for programming the Wynwood film series.

“Watching those movies in an outdoor setting with hundreds of other people was a joyous experience,” he said. “These kinds of public screenings are about introducing new films but also celebrating the familiar.

“So yes, we are showing ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Home Alone,’ but we’re also showing the documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ and the made-in-Miami ‘Moonlight.’ They’re an opportunity to be part of the neighborhood we love and is still associated with us.”

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Rene Rodriguez has worked at the Miami Herald in a variety of roles since 1989. He currently writes for the business desk covering real estate and the city’s affordability crisis.