O Cinema Wynwood Closes With Promises of "Awesome Things in the Future"

Inside O Cinema Wynwood's closing party.  See more photos here.
Inside O Cinema Wynwood's closing party. See more photos here. Daniella Mia
O Cinema Wynwood is now officially closed. All traces of the arthouse, along with its culinary experiment next door, the Wynwood Yard, will likely be bulldozed by the end of the year to make way for a mixed-use building of apartments and shops. But life persisted for one final shindig at the independent movie theater last weekend.

Nearly everyone connected to Miami’s film scene showed up to pay their respects to what O Cinema has done for local filmmaking and exhibition. Outside, there was free wine and beer while DJ Hottpants played lively disco. Inside, the theater ran trailers of movies it had shown over the years and gave out free popcorn and candy as longtime moviegoers bonded over memories.

Filmmakers Alexey Taran and Carla Forte recalled screening their first film there, Historias de la urbe, in 2011, before the venue had even opened to the public. The theater has since hosted screenings of more of their works. They spoke over each other to call the space “amazing.”

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Daniella Mia
Their producer on the film, Jose Luis Martinez, jumped in with a personal story: “Every day I see [O Cinema cofounder] Kareem [Tabsch], I thank him because seven years later I’m married with two kids,” he said, recalling taking his future wife on their first date to the screening. “It’s community. That’s what it is.”

Filmmaker Rachelle Salnave, who took a part-time job at the theater fresh out of University of Miami’s film school, has a similar love story. Her first date with her partner Jean H. Marcelin was to see the 2012 documentary Marley. Beyond their romance was also Marley's success playing at the theater, a crystallizing moment that became part of their inspiration to start the Black Lounge Film Series together. O Cinema was also the backdrop for Salnave's introduction to Dennis Scholl, a longtime Miami art and film philanthropist, who offered financial support for her film festival tour with her documentary La Belle Vie: The Good Life, which would go on to win an Emmy after airing on WPBT.

Scholl, who was program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, encouraged Salnave to apply for grants for her projects. She won two, which freed her from the part-time job but allowed her to pay it forward to O Cinema. “I go from making $8 an hour to being a Knight Arts Champion — where I am able, a few years later, to give back to O Cinema,” she said.

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Daniella Mia
O Cinema Wynwood also provided the springboard for the first horror film festival in the state of Florida, Popcorn Frights. “There would not be a Popcorn Frights Film Festival if it weren’t for O Cinema,” said Igor Shteyrenberg, co-founder of the festival, which has moved to Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale. "We consider them longtime friends,” he added, before noting he expects to bring the festival back to O Cinema. Tabsch and business partner Vivian Marthell have plans to keep the O Cinema name alive with a future space, in addition to its continuing presence in North Beach.

Miami Dade College's Miami Film Festival has also had a long working relationship with O Cinema. The North Beach location showed films this year, and director Jaie Laplante previously used the Wynwood theater for edgier screenings. Particularly in 2013, O Cinema hosted some of the festival’s more challenging films like Post Tenebras Lux and Leviathan. Laplante has personal memories as well, from seeing Locke at the theater, to hosting a special screening of Chef with Jon Favreau in attendance, to losing his wallet there. “I have so many memories here; I can’t count them all,” he said.

The closing event was definitely a celebration and far from a wake. “O Cinema lives and will continue to have a great impact,” added Laplante.

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Daniella Mia
The theater founders echoed that sentiment. After feting Marthell, his longtime partner in O Cinema, with a birthday cake, Tabsch said, “We are working on a permanent home for O Cinema that will be a multiscreen facility.”

That's about all he could reveal. After some needling for details, the birthday girl noted only that the ink was not yet dry on a deal for the facility. But Marthell promised "awesome things in the future.”

For now, O Cinema Miami Beach will keep the partners busy, and all Wynwood staff will relocate to the North Beach venue. No one is being let go, assured Tabsch. On Monday, cleanup of the Wynwood theater begins, as no more screenings are scheduled there. But the memories and impact will surely thrive on.
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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos ( if not in New Times.