BY BRETT SOKOL
Robert Rosenberg (left) and Steven Krams; BELOW: Alma Blanco (right) in a scene from La Yuma
Everywhere you look, new ways of movie watching are emerging, from iPads to wafer-thin, wall-mounted televisions, all borne aloft on a sea of Netflix accounts, ever multiplying cable channels and online streaming video. So who in their right mind would choose this technological moment to open an old-fashioned movie theater, one complete with a 35mm projector slowly unspooling humongous reels of celluloid past a flickering light?
Robert Rosenberg, that’s who. As the director of the new Coral Gables Art Cinema, Rosenberg has partnered with exhibitionindustry veteran Steven Krams, as well as the Gables’ city government, to build a 144-seat nonprofit theater smack in the heart of that burg’s Miracle Mile shopping district. And don’t call it a throwback.
“Citizen Kane is not the same if you watch it on YouTube!” groans Rosenberg in mock horror over the visual compression of Orson Welles’ 1941 cinematic touchstone. “Not that it isn’t great to be able to occasionally watch a film on your iPhone. But seeing it on a larger screen, the way its director created it to be seen, and with people you can talk about it with afterward—it’s a qualitatively different experience.” To that end, upon his Art Cinema’s opening this summer, “We’ll be showing the best of independent film and classic cinema that speaks to the multinational and multilingual diversity of South Florida. As long as we do that, and have unique programs, we’ll make a name for ourselves far beyond Coral Gables.”
Rosenberg certainly has his aesthetic work cut out for him. As a documentary filmmaker with a slate of impressive productions under his belt—including the Emmy Award-winning Before Stonewall—he’s intimately familiar with what it takes to shepherd a lowbudget picture to completion. And as the founder ofMiami’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, he’s equally acquainted with the task of corralling diverse audiences to see those same lesser-known movies. But in 2010, the true battle is in convincing viewers that how they see a film is every bit as crucial as what they see.
Indeed, we’re now in the midst of a revived local art-house scene: The Miami Beach Cinematheque, Little Havana’s Tower Theater and the University of Miami’s Bill Cosford Cinema all program a steady diet of alternative fare stretching beyond the Hollywood mainstream. Yet all increasingly (or in the case of the Beach’s Cinematheque, exclusively) project videos—not actual films.
Many moviegoers don’t know what they’re missing. For a younger generation weaned on instant accessibility and convenience, watching Citizen Kane on YouTube is anything but a joke. And for them, projecting a DVD of Citizen Kane—or simply watching it in the comfort of their own living room—seems like a satisfying option. They have no idea they’re only seeing a portion of Welles’ original vision. It’s akin to visiting a museum exhibition of Jackson Pollock’s multilayered, intricately textured drip paintings—only to discover that in lieu of the real thing, the museum created Xerox copies of those paintings and thumbtacked them to the walls. If you’ve only ever seen Pollock’s work in book illustrations, you’d have no idea you were being visually cheated.
So how do veteran film programmers bridge the generational divide? “Let me get my cane and walker first,” jokes Rosenberg before turning earnest: “You’re selling younger people short. If you go out and talk to kids at universities, a lot of them are dying for some hip, intellectually satisfying events. The audience is out there. But you do have to add some bells and whistles, at least to hook people in until they realize, Wow, it really is different in 35mm on a big screen!” That means adding Q&A sessions with film directors, as well as—this is Miami—galas galore. “If we show a classic Argentine film, there’s not only going to be a special presenter there. We’ll also have tango music and a big party outside in the courtyard afterward!”“Film culture is something you have to cultivate,” agrees Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez, who will be curating and hosting a classic-film series of his own at the Coral Gables Art Cinema in the fall. For him, proof came early of the emotional power of strangers gathering in a darkened room before a properly projected film. Flashing back to 1982, he recalls a teenage encounter with Steven Spielberg’s handiwork: “I saw E.T. in the theater 16 times—it was so extraordinary! But the reason I kept going back was because I wanted to experience it with an audience. I wanted to see and feel how they’d react. That’s something home video can’t ever compete with.”
Back at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Rosenberg is preparing his schedule. He’s hoping to import San Francisco’sNoir City festival lineup of rarely seen 1930s and ’40s film noirs—an array of iconic femmes fatales largely unreleased on DVD. And he has tentatively booked La Yuma, a sumptuously shot portrait of an aspiring female boxer crossing class lines in Managua (and the first feature film shot in Nicaragua in 25 years), as well as Eyes Wide Open, an Israeli drama set inside that country’s ultra-Orthodox community, focusing on “forbidden love in fractured families.” Though both originally screened at the Miami International Film Festival earlier this year to enthused reactions, neither is anyone’s idea of a safe crowd pleaser. Which is exactly the point. “We don’t want to repeat what the Regals and AMC theaters are showing,” Rosenberg says. “We don’t want to repeat even what the other nonprofit cinemas are showing. We want to show new thing.”
photograph by kate benson