If the founders of O Cinema can have their dreams fulfilled, the small art house in Wynwood will be able to show three different screenings in three different parts of its building at once. Monday, the theater announced new funding that will get them halfway to that vision, a grant of $100,000 from ArtPlace America that will allow the movie house to hold free screenings outdoors. (The Adrienne Arsht Center also won an ArtPlace grant; look for more of its plans later this week.)
Last week, the Knight Foundation announced O Cinema as one of 66 finalists of its Arts Challenge Grant. Should achieve that grant, it will allow for creation of a second screening room inside the theater.
Speaking over the phone, O Cinema co-founder Kareem Tabsch says, "We're super-honored and stoked to be a Knight's finalist this year, particularly since we were founded with a grant from the Knight Foundation. It's what allowed us to open our doors, so they've always been fervent supporters of ours. We are huge fans of theirs and eternally indebted to them."
The $100,000 ArtPlace grant will allow for screenings outdoors and help Tabsch and his colleagues improve the facility's exterior. Tabsch credits his partner in the cinema for spearheading this plan dubbed "Cine Al Fresco." Speaking over the phone, Marthell says, "Basically it's converting the outside area of O Cinema into a public green space where we can do outdoor screenings, performances and just contribute to the community in an artful way."
The idea will be to convert the wall that runs perpendicular to O's front door into a screen to project movies. "Part of what we wanted to do was to offer free screenings to the community, for the people that work in Wynwood, for the people that revel in Wynwood and for the people that live there," emphasizes Marthell. "We have to connect with them in order to connect to the community and let the community grow."
The films screening will add another layer to the already colorful programming running inside the theater. "We'll probably show funky movies for the community that will be family-friendly on those free nights," Marthell says, "and the other stuff is going to be kind of like what we program at O."
Marthell also notes that a big part of the grant will fund the "greening" of the art house and beyond. "The Wynwood area is lacking in green space," she says, "so we wanted to beautify it. We're gonna have a garden so that it's more conducive to a space for the community. Apart from that, the ability to show films outside--we have an amazing space--so it just seemed like a good fit."
Beyond the screening area, the grant will assist in the development of part of O Cinema's land few have ever noticed. "If you go around to the back area there's a big plot of land that we're going to turn into a bike area," Marthell reveals, "because everybody comes to O on bicycles, so we're going to dedicate a space for bike parking with some tables. We're going to try to partner up with a local youth organization to do some kind of vertical gardens, or something like that, back there. There already is an avocado tree."
Tabsch and Marthell turned an empty warehouse space in Wynwood into a movie house in February of 2011 with the help of the Knight Foundation. Only a little over a year later, in October of 2012, they established a satellite theater at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores. Now, O Cinema founders propose to continue growth at its home base in what Tabsch is calling the "O Cinema Upgrade" -- a plan that's dependent on the Knight Arts Challenge funds for which the theater is a finalist.
The heart of the plan includes a new projection system. "Fully integrated, probably 2K DCP system that will really put us in play with all of the other theaters, both indie and mainstream, around the country who have made the jump to the new technology," says Tabsch. DCP stands for Digital Cinema Package. The 2K refers to the amount of pixels that the run the width of the screen. That's 2,000, the same high-definition image that has replaced 35mm film projectors at multiplexes.
With the versatility of the higher definition system at O Cinema comes a larger screen, surround sound, and improved sound-proofing, Tabsch said. "So it's really a complete overhaul of the auditorium," he notes and adds, "At the end of the day, we are an indie cinema that found a niche for itself inside a warehouse, so there are some space limitations, but we are constantly working on ways to improve, and this is certainly one of them."
Tabsch said O Cinema also needs this system to appease audience demand for higher profile indie and art house films. "We've heard oftentimes from our patrons, there's particular films like The Master, like Moonrise Kingdom that they wanted to see, and they wanted to see at O Cinema, but the reality is our technical setup has not allowed that to happen."
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The other aspect of the proposed O Cinema upgrade plan would allow O to convert a large storage room situated behind the theater space into a proper screening room that should seat somewhere between 30 to 40 people, notes Tabsch, making the cinema a two-screen venue. Tabsch hopes that this second venue will allow the art house to bring in more films that would otherwise not reach Miami audiences. It would also provide room for more retrospectives like the recent Stanley Kubrick retrospective that saw many a sold-out night and required encore screenings. "It's going to allow us to double if not triple the amount of films we bring in annually," he said of the proposed second auditorium.
In the end, for O Cinema, it's not about size or grandeur but about providing as many channels as possible for as many people it can reach via the cinematic experience. Says Marthell, "It's bringing different people together in front of one movie and how, no matter where you are or who you are, you connect with the scenes and experiences in the film, so that's always been the basis of what we do."
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.