Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The State of Film

And The Winner Is

As I write this, I await the beginning of the Academy Awards. I will forego the predictions but have read all the predictions. I have seen “The Life of Pi”, “Silver Linings Playbook”, and “Les Misérables” where UA, Regal, and AMC rule, and salty popcorn, bathtub-sized soft drinks, and GMO laden snacks command exorbitant prices. To tell the truth, these venues, with runaway 14 year-old wreaking havoc on all sense and sensibility are more punishment than sanctuary, so it is with great jouissance that I can celebrate the local film scene as never before. Never have the connoisseur, enthusiast, and junkie had so many opportunities to see foreign, independent, and documentary films.

Apart from Oscar, Miami has just completed its 30th version of the Miami International Film Festival, or XXX as MIFF blithely logoed it. Miami Dade College is behind this festival as it is behind the Book Fair and so many other great community affairs. No, none of the films were XXX nor screened at dodgy theathers, but many will also never make it to the corporate screens either. Instead, what MIFF does, and where it does it, gives the film maven plenty of places to pursue the big screen fantasies going on around the world. And we denizens of the bottom of the Sunshine State can now view great cinema every day of the week in a number of locales. 

I wrote about the Coral Gables Art Cinema last year, so this is a good time to give them and all the local art houses a big shout out again. This column will be devoid of any criticism or controversy. Not only do all the theaters curate great selections, as of course does the MIFF and other local film events, but the Coral Gables venue particularly can be accessed by googling Miami cinemateque, Coral Gables Cinema, and a few others. All roads lead to the CGAC, which also has a cool little cafe thing going as well.

MDC is also the driver behind Calle Ocho’s TowerTheater which routinely screens great films, many of which are in original Spanish language of course with English subtitles. This landmark, built and launched in 1926, is again a great gathering place and paragon of modest majesty for both new and the nostalgic film buffs, after having been restored and revived in the 2000’s. For those aesthetes with the special fondness for the bygone, the Tower is choice #1. Across the street is Azucar for ice cream.

Another long running venue for the movie devotee is the Bill Cosford Cinema on the campus of the University of Miami. I always liked the Cosford because it made me feel young. However, recent accomodations to what someone thought was a changing demographic -- young people -- have made mass market films on their later go-round a complement to the offbeat and international. Two vending machines are on the concourse.

When the Miami Beach Cinematheque, AKA MBC, is not participating in a local film festival it still offers a wide-ranging selection of films. As its website points out, Dana Keith is the founder, director, driving force, and film connoisseur behind it all. I don’t know if Dana is also popping the corn, but to find out, you must go to the 1927, historic Carl Fischer-designed City Hall on Washington Avenue near Espanola Way. Of course, MBC has a bookstore/gallery/cafe space.

Last are the two O Cinema spaces, the original edgier one in Wynwood, and the newer, more classic spot in Miami Shores, also known as MTC, Miami Theater Center where it shares space with what is now known as playground. MTC was founded as the Shores Theater in 1946. Both O’s are part of the non-profit which happened thanks to matching funds from the Knight Foundation. When they can, the O Wynwood screens films like those about Bob Marley, the Cream’s Ginger Baker, and controversial prison revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal. MTC prefers features about the geriatric, the royal, and the indigent European in search of salvation. Wynwood serves chocolate ganache treats and in Miami Shores, there’s a Starbucks down the street.

In Miami, these are good times for filmgoers -- every day of the week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Death of Wynwood

For a while now, I have been thinking that the end is near. Since there is no such profession as an actual “future of the neighborhood” fact checker, the question remains -- Is the end of Wynwood near? Let’s say a little perspective is in order.
First, it is entirely fair dinkum to assume that some of our reading population does not know what I’m talking about. If you have a decent relationship with your college aged children and they have tats, piercings, or an inclination to speak of craft beer, GMO’s, or baristas, you are aware of the district near Midtown where Art Basel spinoffs and graffiti artists began digging in about a dozen years ago thanks to a desire, a need, and a beloved pioneer named Tony Goldman. If you have never visited Wynwood, perhaps this analogy will do.

Remember the time before Ocean Drive was reborn. Art Deco structures populated a mostly decrepit, neglected stretch of what would become really valuable real estate between South 5th and South 15th on South Beach. Like a phoenix, it became grand in a short time after having fallen into Scarface disrepair. On the other hand, today, it is a desperate, immature, ugly 20 something visited by most of us only when our least sophisticated relatives make that once in a lifetime visit to South Florida and want to visit the Clevelander.

Illustration two is Lincoln Road, still pleasant though no one I know goes there very much any more because it’s too crowded. (Thank Groucho Marx for the joke) With the recent opening of European mass market God H&M, the transformation is virtually complete and fully corporatized. If you are a small business, I’ve got two words for you -- side streets -- because as former New York mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan squealed, “The Rent is Too Damn High.”

So while I am certainly ahead of myself, simultaneously, I am not. Adjacent to Wynwood, the Design District has added Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Dior, and Prada. Hello Design District. Goodbye Bal Harbor. (and its claustrophobia) Target lives alongside Loehmann’s, Supercuts, Foot Locker, and Subway in midtown Miami, also next to Wynwood, so can you hear the clock ticking yet? Hipsters, artists, and franchises do not mix!

I am not complaining as it is inevitable for change to occur, but the folks who were first to the dance -- those with bikes and spray cans, will soon be stopped by the new bouncer they used to tag walls with. That said, Wynwood is entering its next transformation, and expect the avalanche to occur much more quickly than you think. Food trucks and their generators quickly wear out their welcome when NW 2nd Avenue is bumper to bumper and the masses prefer t-shirts to canvases.

When this occurs, some will be disappointed, but fret not; the transformation will continue elsewhere. Till then, though you might want to check out Model City or Little Haiti, my money is on whether anyone can spell Allapattah?