​Indie Film Cinema Profile: Meet Miami Beach Cinematheque

After years studying film, attending festivals and also living in Europe for 10 years, Dana Keith decided to return to the United States in 1993, settle in Miami and create the Miami Beach Film Society shortly thereafter.

“I have been attending film festivals such as Cannes for decades now. This was my 34th year in a row attending the Cannes Film Festival in France,” said Keith. But he wanted to bring Miami into the equation. “In discovering that Miami Beach needed more film culture added to the mix, we opened the Cinematheque on Española Way … in 2003.”

After seven years on Española, they relocated in 2010 to the ground floor of historic Miami Beach City Hall on Washington Avenue. Before moving in however, they renovated the space to match the Spanish Mediterranean Revival style of the building.

“The renovation was thanks to the half a million dollars raised by our founding circle and members,” said Keith.

Before even moving into the Española Way space though, the Film Society was what Dana calls a “vagabond” organization where they moved around South Beach presenting films at places such as swimming pools and restaurants, when the chefs created meals inspired by food-related films for their “Food & Film: Movies to Dine For” series. The latter was run in collaboration with Gourmet Magazine showcasing the city’s best chefs and had a five-year sold out run.

Additionally, in 1994 they presented “The Esther Williams Film Festival at Miami Beach’s Fabulous Swimming Pools.” She attended and even gave a fashion show of her line of swimwear. There was also the Esther Williams look-a-like contest, which was “pretty funny, with just about anyone entering,” he said.

”We also had several stints at the Raleigh Hotel, presenting films such a Hiroshima Mon Amourand the restored Breathless in the ballroom, which filled in as an interim cinematheque during our year of construction at Historic City Hall,” he said.

Those were the early days; once they had their space on Española Way the real art cinema presentations took off. It became a what’s what of indie cinema, with an average of 10 retrospectives a year, many with in-person visiting guests such as Francis Ford Coppola, David Lynch and Gus Van Sant via an early version of Skype.

Currently, they are in a two-year run with “Speaking In Cinema” made possible by the Knight Foundation, and supported by long-time partners Nespresso and the Sagamore Hotel. Here, they match a visiting filmmaker with a well-known film critic and a local host, to discuss their work currently in the program.

So far the series has included Benoit Debîe, who shot many of Gaspar Noé’s films, and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers as well as producer Christine Vachon of the Oscar-nominated Carol. They have also partnered with all the local film festivals, including a 20-year partnership with the Miami Brazilian Film Festival.

The Miami Beach Film Society is the organization that owns and operates the Cinematheque. Therefore, when you become a member, you are automatically a member of the Society. Through the society and programming they have nurtured a growing group of cinephiles. One in particular, Daniel Vazquez, who began volunteering at 16 years old, has grown into a major role at the cinema.

“Daniel knew more about world auteurs than most people from when he first started, and now he is my right hand man, operating very important aspects of the cinematheque,” Keith said. “I love when that happens. There is nothing better than when your employees truly love and appreciate the business.”

The chairman of the board is Robert Crane, who came from a New York arts foundation background, and his wife Shirley Muñoz, are both fine art film lovers “and that’s always good when the chairman understands the purpose and mission of the organization very well,” said Keith.

All those involved take very seriously presenting and promoting cinema as an art form. “Film is an art, not just a form of entertainment, which it is too. MBC has become a reliable presenter of the best of world cinema, giving audiences opportunities to see the films which they thought they would never see,” said Keith.

Over the years, they have presented winners from various international film festivals; and new films from greats like Jean-Luc Godard’s latest Goodbye to Language, presented in 3D and a film he made 50 years after directing Breathless.

There are no signs of slowing down for Keith and the film-loving cinephiles at Miami Beach Cinematheque. They plan to continue to develop more ways to present enlightening, fun, challenging and educating programming.

That means continuing to offer risky and obscure concepts — widening the outlook of what most people think the movies are — and those provocative works, often their most popular films, proving that the market for art films is alive and growing in Miami.

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