An Interview with O Cinema's Kareem Tabsch

North Shore

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

An Interview with O Cinema's Kareem Tabsch:

What the wynwood closing means for o cinema north beach and what's next

An interview Kareem Tabsch, co-director and co-founder of O Cinema

With the recent announcement that the site of Wynwood Yard and O Cinema would soon become a new residential development, we asked Kareem Tabsch about what’s next for O Cinema North Beach. His responses via email are below.

RE:MiamiBeach: How does the programming at O Cinema Wynwood and North Beach differ?
It's a hard comparison as our audiences across the two locations tend to be so different but in many ways that really has allowed us to diversify the types of films we show. Wynwood skews to a predominantly under 40 crowd and North Beach generally is 40 and above. That said, at times we've experimented with mixing up the recipe for what works where and have been surprised to find that it really is all dependent on the individual films and the acclaim and word of mouth around them. A perfect example is our annual Rocky Horror Picture Show event around Halloween (On Oct 20th this year—save the date). The makeup of the audience is so wonderfully diverse across ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, race but all with the same enthusiasm and joy. The power of the movies is universal.

How do the attendance numbers compare between the two?
Last year we welcomed a bit north of 27,000 patrons to O Cinema Miami Beach. It's been a steady growth. When we first opened in North Beach we expected about 10K people annually and the response to the type of films and event were just staggering—we doubled that estimate in just the first year. Wynwood has the benefit of 8 years in the community and our attendance there is slightly larger than at Miami Beach.

How might the programming change in North Beach as a result of the closing of Wynwood? Would the Wynwood patrons come to North Beach (if programming moves over – for example, I have gone to see films in Wynwood that were not available in North Beach. Might those folks now come to North Beach?)
There's a delicate balance to strike here. For one, we want to continue offering North Beach residents the programming they've responded so well to but at the same time, we're committed to pushing the envelope artistically and showcasing films that would otherwise not be shown in South Florida. Increasing the representation of stories that reflect the wide diversity of our community is of the utmost importance to us as an organization. The other balance we have is the limitation of a single-screen venue and the distributor expectations when we open a film. In short, we're going to be doing some experimenting and some tinkering to see how to merge two distinct programming styles. That said, I want everyone to come to North Beach so our hope is that with the closure of the Wynwood theater in 2019 even more folks cross the causeway.
Other additional plans for North Beach?
So many! Earlier this summer we launched our 'Awake & Aware' program of conscious cinema to a huge response from the community. It’s the only program of its kind locally focused on mindfulness, spirituality and the connectivity between humans and the world around them. Our request for support from the city will also allow us to offer more of the programs the community has asked of us: films for children and families, classic films and programs for seniors, and [a] few others that are still in the works. While the limitations of just one screen can be challenging we want to push it to its limits. Of course, our partnership with the Miami-Dade Public Library System will continue, showcasing works by some of the leading contemporary artists in the lobby spaces of O Cinema Miami Beach. Visitors have been able to see up close works by Pablo Picasso, Ana Mendieta, Cristo & Jean Claude, Andy Warhol, Jose Bedia on visits to the theater. We can expect some of the programs unique to our Wynwood location will move over to North Beach in early 2019.

Have you heard anything further from the City with regard to the condition of the building? If/when the building goes under construction, how might that impact you?
An LTC was issued this week. Its lengthy and extensive but has mostly underscored what has been always been clear to everyone—the western portion of the building (the part O Cinema does NOT inhabit) is not in good shape. That's why it has been closed since 2002 and is completely closed off from the rest of the building. There are some issues that need remedying in the eastern portion of the building but they seem addressable in a way that can continue to keep O Cinema in operation until the time comes that physical work on the development plan for the site commences. Our goal is to serve the community who has been loud and clear that they'd like to see O Cinema in North Beach well into the future. Our hope is that we can work with the city leadership and staff to develop a plan that would allow for just that. While being a part of the future iteration of the Byron-Carlyle would be great, we more importantly want to remain part of the fabric and cultural life of North Beach—which we've been very proud to have been for the past four years and very proud of our impact on resident and visitor quality of life and the significant economic impact we've brought to the neighborhood.

Has there been agreement on your request for a lease extension, help with the utilities, etc.?
Our request for support was approved on first reading at this week’s [Commission] meeting. It will be a huge help in supporting the operation of the facility and expand our programmatic offering to the community. Our discussions on an extension to the agreement are still on-going but there seems to be support among the commission to keeping O Cinema Miami Beach serving the community at the Byron-Carlyle until a permanent plan for the future of the building comes to pass.
Do you have plans for another O Cinema?
There's a lot in the works for the future of O Cinema but nothing we can share just yet. What I can say is we're committed to expanding how and where we serve our community. As such, for some time we've been working on some exciting growth and expansion plans that I will eagerly share when they're ready for the world.

What has been the reaction to the Wynwood news?
Overwhelming and extremely moving. There have been thousands of messages via social media, comments on the articles, emails, posts—all overwhelmingly loving and supportive of O Cinema’s role in the community as a place where the cinematic arts convenes people together and allows film to educate, inspire and entertain them.

We've also had so many developers and municipalities who have come to us, wanting us to bring the O Cinema magic to their cities. I've had the most wonderful conversations with community leaders and organizations who want to support our work in the community in its next iteration. It's been humbling and exciting, to say the least. While there is a bittersweetness to the end of this chapter, there's much anticipation for the next one and it's going to be even greater.
Photo courtesy O Cinema

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