By Peter Knegt | Indiewire March 16, 2011 at 4:56AM
O Cinema opened February 24 in downtown Miami's Wynwood Arts District with the intent of offering a whole new way of exhibiting media. The brainchild of Vivian Marthell and Kareem Tabsch, co-directors of Living Arts Trust, it's the result a $400,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to establish the cinema’s presence in the South Florida.
Like many arthouses, it specializes in first-run independent, foreign and other niche market films. However, it also sublets three artist studios, and includes a gallery that shows new works every 6-8 weeks. In the works is Monitoring Art, a dedicated video art gallery and a courtyard for live music and other gatherings. They also plan to expand the 50-seat stadium-style theater to seat 130.
Tabsch and Marthell, both veterans of the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, spent about three years bringing their vision to fruition.
"Our taste and aesthetic are generally polar opposites, but we have an appreciation and respect for each other's opposing likes," said Tabsch. However, the well-traveled Miami natives lamented the fact that while many elements of arts and culture had come a long way in their hometown, film wasn't one of them.
"The Miami Film Festival was a great event and had done a lot to bring good films to the city, but that was just 10 days out of the whole year and there was no real place to regularly see the wide variety of great movies that would play at places like the Quad, Film Forum, Angelika, the Cumberland, Kabuki, or any of the other haunts we'd pop into in the cities we'd frequent," Tabsch said. "We were determined to find a way and change that."
So when the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced their $40 million investment into Miami's arts community in early 2008, Marthell and Tabsch responded to an open call for Miami residents to propose ideas that would help transform the city's cultural landscape.
"The submission process was easy -- just 150 words to sum up our concept, click submit and wait," Marthell said. "We were thrilled to be invited to submit a more hashed-out proposal, then called back again for more pointed questions, facts and figures, and ultimately a third time around where we presented our concept, our numbers and our goals for the cinema. We were awarded funding in December of 2008."
It turned out getting the grant was the easier part. As a matching grant, Marthell and Tabsch had to raise the equivalent themselves in a now-melting economy. They also had to find a location that would work as a cinema in their target neighborhood of the Wynwood Art District on Miami's Upper East Side, which repurposed industrial spaces into artistic environments.
Thanks to the Knight Foundation, they were allowed to match the grant in portions (so far they've raised about a quarter). And after they finally found their site in July 2010, across from the Rubell Family Collection, O Cinema opened seven months later.
Since then, Marthell and Tabsch have showcased titles like "Mississippi Damned," "Four Lions," "A Somewhat Gentle Man" and 'Tiny Furniture." They're also developing series that target Miami's LGBT, Jewish, African-American and Latino communities as well as partnering with local institutions like indie music store Sweat Records and the Borscht Film Festival.
"People are really excited about what we're doing," Marthell said. "We've started out slowly, opening quietly to work the kinks out, but the feedback has been great and people who come into the space comment that they've never been in a place, let alone a cinema, like this. We don't want kids who grow up in Miami to feel like they need to flock to New York or to Los Angeles to get that cinematic fix that feeds your soul. We've had those same pangs, too, and we want to make it better for everyone else."
For more information, check out O Cinema's website.