A newly renovated cinema house in North Beach is ready for its close-up. Once owned by Wometco and then Regal Cinemas, the Byron Carlyle, named after the avenues that sandwiched it when it first opened in 1968, will reopen Friday under the direction of O Cinema with the Michael Keaton film Birdman.
Known as O Cinema Miami Beach, it's the third movie house run by the people behind indie art house O Cinema. Once a multiplex that housed seven theaters, it closed down a couple of years after Regal opened its three-story, 18-theater Lincoln Road location in 2002 on South Beach. Since then, it has spent some time as a live theater with occasional one-off movie screenings.
The opportunity arose for O Cinema, which also operates movie theaters in Wynwood and Miami Shores, to reopen the shuttered former movie house when the lease ran out for theater company Stage Door. Ownership of the 45,000-square-foot, two-story building at 500 71st St. reverted to the City of Miami Beach, and some local cinephiles approached city officials suggesting O Cinema take the shutters off and revive it as a movie theater.
Sitting in one of the 304 seats that make up the theater, O Cinema codirector Kareem Tabsch credits many for helping him and his partner at O, Vivian Marthell, on this project. "[Miami Beach] Mayor Philip Levine has been an amazing champion, supersupportive," he says. "His dedication to North Beach has been staggering... He said, 'We want to get you in here. We want to get you guys to show movies,' and it's part of a lot of things there... There's this dedication to North Beach, and art and culture is at the epicenter of it, and O Cinema is going to lead that charge."
The new movie house has only one screen, and more than half the building remains sealed off. However, the space O Cinema has taken over feels grand. The seats, which were installed during its time as a theater, look barely used. The renovations include new bathrooms with lots of granite, including a large vanity mirror for the ladies. In the theater, there's plenty of space for wheelchairs both on the ground floor and the mezzanine. The projection booth has a 2K DCP system and a 35mm projector, the first film projector O Cinema has ever operated, which will probably figure in well with its plan to project classic films unavailable in DCP alongside first-run indie films, documentaries, and cultural programming, including theater.
This marks the first time in a long time that a second indie art house has opened in Miami Beach. The other is the stalwart Miami Beach Cinematheque in South Beach. Asked if this new theater encroaches on the territory of MBC, Tabsch says, "I've never thought that there's a true competition within the art houses here. One, because there's geographic distance. We are the exact same distance to the Cinematheque here as Wynwood is to the Cinematheque... and we're going to be showing different kinds of films. Dana does an amazing job doing a lot of retrospective screenings, smaller independents, and a lot of world cinema. We don't do as much of that."
Tabsch is referring to MBC founder and director Dana Keith, who has been screening movies for more than 20 years in South Beach. He too doesn't seem to see any competition between the theaters. If there's any animosity, Keith certainly doesn't show it, also noting the geographic distance. "I'm happy that O Cinema is adding a location on North Beach, and I congratulate Kareem, Vivian, and their team for their efforts in reviving the Byron Carlyle and in turn the neighborhood," he says, adding, "Any revival concerning cinema is a good thing."
Indeed, Keith credits O for assisting in his long pursuit for a license to sell beer and wine to his patrons. Now both O Miami Beach and MBC are permitted to sell beer and wine to moviegoers. "It has taken years for the City of Miami Beach to realize that MBC is perfectly appropriate for that, and this new deal with O Cinema has helped to move that right along," Keith notes, "so it's all good. It is time to celebrate for cinema's sake."
And that's what Tabsch is looking forward to most about this third location, which puts all of Miami-Dade County in a new category in the national indie film scene. "It's an amazing time in the city," Tabsch says. "It's really an amazing time if you're a film lover in Miami. As of next week, Miami proper will have seven indie arthouse cinemas. That is an anomaly in the country! When I talk to distributors and I tell them that we're opening another theater, they say, 'How many do you have down there?' We're like, 'We have three. There's seven in the city.' They're like, 'That's crazy!' Theaters in other cities are closing down. In Miami, they're opening up."