Miami Beach Cinematheque director Dana Keith finds it difficult to make time for anything else but cinema. That's particularly true this week; his art house is in the middle of hosting screenings for the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which included an appearance by James Franco whose film, Interior. Leather Bar, encores tonight at MBC. Meanwhile, the theater's regular programming continues, while Keith tries to book an extra month's worth of film in advance before he makes his annual trek to the Cannes Film Festival in the middle of May.
Oh yeah, and the theater is also celebrating is 20th anniversary of presenting independent and art house films on Miami Beach.
The 20th anniversary of the organization Keith founded, the Miami Beach Film Society (MBFS), will be commemorated with an encore screening of the film that started it all: Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. The classic 1950 film noir about movie-making will screen May 8 on the wall of New World Symphony, kicking off a year-long celebration of 20 years of the innovative programming that, ten years ago, gave birth to the Miami Beach Cinematheque.
"We screened that film in 1993 as one of the first public presentations of MBFS on the side of the Marlin Hotel," Keith notes. "The Mayor at the time re-named Collins Avenue 'Sunset Boulevard' for one night, so Mayor Bower will have Washington Avenue re-named 'Sunset Boulevard' on May 8 in commemoration of the 20 years."
We interviewed Keith via email -- yes, he's that busy -- about the best moments in MBC history.
Miami New Times: What inspired you to start the Miami Beach Cinematheque?
Dana Kieth: After studying cinema and fine art in Santa Barbara I lived in Europe for ten years, where I spent much of my spare time in cinematheques, art cinemas, film museums, and at auctions or in collector's "attics" to obtain rare memorabilia since film and film history has always been my passion. When I moved here in 1992, I felt that Miami and South Beach in particular needed more of an ongoing film culture. It was "the land of film festivals" of all types (and still is), but I felt it needed an entity that promoted cinema as an art form, not geared towards a specific subject or niche group like most of the festivals were, but one that celebrates the art of film itself,. So I started the Miami Beach Film Society right away, which led to the opening of the first Miami Beach Cinematheque on Española Way on the organization's 10th anniversary in 2003.
Why do you spell "Cinematheque" like that?
It's the French way, but also the way that most of the cinematheques spell it in the US, like the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. The world's most famous one is in Paris, Cinémathèque Française (founded by Henri Langlois and Georges Franju), where I hung out for years on a weekly basis, which is a huge inspiration. We don't bother with those original accents on the e's though. That would be a little too French.
The original MBC location was also chosen partly because of the French restaurant being next door, A La Folie, with the Jean Cocteau-inspired wall murals which are still there. That was too perfect, so "cinematheque" it became.
What was one of he biggest challenges you ever faced during the 20-year life span of the organization?
Besides renovating the historic city hall parking department space into the cinematheque, which was a major production, there is an ongoing challenge which you also know well as a film critic: convincing people in Miami that cinema is a fine art too, or could be, and not just a form of entertainment or another reason to party. MBFS started out presenting sold out series such as "Food and Film: Movies to Dine For" which had the best chefs create meals tied to the films at their restaurants, and fun ideas like "The Esther Williams Film Festival at Miami Beach's Fabulous Swimming Pools" (that was the actual title), always with "party" a key factor to get people to pay attention. But the cinematheque opened with serious film as art on its brain also, so that was another story altogether. Now, after years of nurturing a support group for the art films themselves, which was tough going in the beginning, I'm happy to say that the Turin Horses, the Uncle Boonmees, the Buñuels and the Jodorowskys are met with open arms by people that had previously beelined for the cocktails rather than the films.
Can you share one of your more surprising celebrity visits there?
We love when celebrities sneak into see films, so I won't name all the people who have done that, because they like to be private about it. But there have been some surprise shows over the years that turned out fun, like Justin Theroux coming unannounced for Blue Velvet during the Lynch retrospective. He ended up doing a impromptu Q&A and spoke about the upcoming Inland Empire (which we premiered later at the Colony with David Lynch introducing via iChat-- pre-Skype days). Tom Wolfe in his iconic white jacket dropped by looking for "Dana Keith, who I was told can show me some culture on South Beach." That was funny. He was very interested in our library of film books.
Every month you pay tribute to an important director in cinema. How do you decide who deserves the recognition?
Many times the retrospectives tie into a new film being released, such as Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre or Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways (coming in June) which lead to the opportunity to discover their past work, in the case of Kaurismaki his rarely seen shorts, or in the case of Dolan, a film that was never theatrically released in the US: I Killed My Mother. Or it happens because a classic or classics have been restored, such as the amazing buried treasures of Pierre Etaix which had never been released in the US at all, or the upcoming Fritz Lang retrospective (coming in June and July) which will include restorations of M and Ministry of Fear. It also helps when we have a major collection of rare memorabilia, such is the case with Lang, which is reason enough to celebrate and show and tell.
Is there a favorite director tribute you have held?
I love retrospectives, obviously, but I have to say that one of my favorites was for Francis Coppola, who visited as part of it with a very interesting presentation of his documentary Coda, which was a "making of" doc about Youth without Youth. [Miami Herald film critic] Rene Rodriguez jumped at the chance to do the Q&A with one of his favorites, and Coppola himself helped out with Coppola wines for the series, as he did for years for our annual Oscar party. He's the man.
Lastly, what does the future hold? Any special events you might be excited about?
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Even though we have a love for cinema as fine art and will continue to present the best of world cinema from the Cannes Film Festival, for example, (I'll be leaving on May 13 for the 31st time at Cannes, believe it or not, to do my weeks of intense screening to help decide on what will shape the upcoming season), we have a more commercial project that has been in preparation for years: The Made In Miami Movie Tour. It will start at the cinematheque and pan out from there, visiting the specific locations where famous films were shot over the decades, showing clips of those scenes. There will be an adult version of the tour, since "adult film" practically originated in Miami, and the fact that the best sequences are usually R rated. But the main tour will be family and tourist friendly, and will feature the likes of John Barrymore, Theda Bara, Jerry Lewis, Sylvester Stallone, Cindy Crawford, Michael Bay, and of course, Al Pacino, but also the works of great local filmmakers who have helped make the history of filmmaking in Miami interesting and colorful, to say the least. And our hearts will always be with the art side of the spectrum, so another great project coming up will be "Speaking in Cinema," a series of discussions about film with local film critics, visiting critics and filmmakers, to promote what we love the most: the seventh art.
Catch Sunset Boulevard projected at Soundscape Park, on the New World Symphony's wall Wednesday, May 8, at 8 p.m. The screening is free. Visit mbcinema.com for details on continuing anniversary screenings.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.