87 Park

Fall 2015

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96 Meet the movie lover whose expanion of Miami's O Cinema to North Beach has "been transformational for the neighborhood" BY ERIC NEWILL O Cinema co-founder Kareem Tabsch says he thinks of films in terms of three "boxes": those people want to see, those people should see—with an equal level of popularity and quality—and those they need to see, whose excellence can be a cultural expander for the audience. "In a perfect world, a film fits in all three of those boxes, but all of our films fit into at least one of the boxes." CINEMA DREAMS How did Miami become such a big town for movie lovers? After all, only a decade ago one was starved for indie and experimental films, which if they played at all would appear only briefly. But like many other art forms in the city, cinema began to take hold as Miami's sophistication and the population's thirst for quality cultural offerings grew, helped along by people like Kareem Tabsch, who in 2011 co-founded O Cinema in Wynwood with Vivian Marthell. "We would have to travel to other cities to see movies that wouldn't come to Miami," says Tabsch, "which just didn't make sense." A $40,000 grant from the Knight Foundation helped the pair open their first space on Northwest 29th Street, whose success has spurred satellite locations in Miami Shores and at North Beach's venerable Byron Carlyle theater. In November 2014, the latter opened with a sold-out screening of the Oscar-winning Birdman. "It's been transformational for the neighborhood," Tabsch says. "Over half of our audience walks to the theater. That speaks volumes about North Beach and the kind of cultural programming that we offer." Opening its doors in 1968 with the premiere of Otto Preminger's Skidoo (starring Beach resident Jackie Gleason), the Byron Carlyle was at one point the largest cinema in South Florida, with twin auditoriums located on the avenues after which they were named. By the '80s, the theater had become a multiplex, even as it also survived as the only movie house on Miami Beach. But in 2001, after the opening of the Regal on Lincoln Road, the Byron Carlyle morphed into a multipurpose performance space that was used intermittently. Finally, the City of Miami Beach approached Tabsch and Marthell to operate the venue as an O Cinema as part of the community's continuing revival of North Beach. "It was kismet," he says. "We really believe in the concept of uniting neighborhoods through cinema." A Miami native, Tabsch says North Beach is unique in the city. "It has a great bohemian vibe and is very eclectic. It hasn't been overtaken by tourists, and still has a 'Main Street' feel to it. It's the last bastion of true local-centric spots." To that end, O programs its offerings to fit the surrounding environment. "We always try to think of how to best serve our audience. Representation on screen is very important to us, how to reflect the given temperature of the community." He cites as an example the incredible success of the Argentine anthology film Wild Tales, which played to packed houses for more than a month. "The largest concentration of Argentines in the city is within a one-mile radius from our theater, so it was a perfect match." PHOTO BY FELIPE CUEVAS

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