It’s been four months since Secret Celluloid Society made its move to O Cinema Miami Beach after a long, well-received stint at Coral Gables Art Cinema. The line-up in July has varied wildly in selection, offering 16 films so far, with Mommie Dearest, Robocop, Reservoir Dogs, The Witches, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, among others. Now, Independent Ethos has the scoop on August’s and September’s line-ups alongside an exclusive interview with founder/director/art director of SCS, Nayib Estefan, who says his dreams for O Cinema Miami Beach have finally come true.
As one month comes to a close with Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, screening this Saturday night, another opens with one: Ken Russell’s Altered States, on Aug. 6. The month continues with the classic The Wizard of Oz and then popular ’80s flick The Goonies. Popular charm doesn’t last long as the month ends on Aug. 27 with the ultraviolent A Clockwork Orange, another Kubrick classic and a film SCS once showed digitally at Gables but will now show on film.
September’s first film is one of the most exciting choices, though, Dario Argento’s essential Suspiria. After that, it’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Birdcage. The closer? Another in a line of Alejandro Jodorowsky features that Estefan has played over the years: El Topo. It was also formerly shown by SCS digitally but now it will be screened on film.
But SCS events are also more than movie screenings. You will often find Estefan running around and saying hi to everyone who walks through those doors: old, young, “never seen it before,” “seen it a hundred times,” first-timers at O, and the folks coming back after giving him a 5-star review on Facebook. “That’s how I visualized O Cinema: the end of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure where everybody shows up to say hi to Pee-wee when he shows the movie,” he says with a laugh.
The perfect score Secret Celluloid Society maintains on Facebook after seventeen reviews is a testament to the power of what Estefan does for the midnight movie game, though that doesn’t account for the 200-plus voices cheering wildly, this past Saturday, as a spectacular 35mm print of Alien (the director’s cut, no less) rolled to its end. Asked why he thinks his screenings bring people together in such a way, he notes, “People want to connect. They’re tired of not connecting, and I think they disconnected enough before where now they’re looking for a connection with anyone offering an experience.”
In an era where modern films are headlined by 20 minutes of commercials and cost anywhere between $11.50 to $20, SCS offers more than a movie, for $10 a pop. While every showing features some kind of pre-show video or image on screen accompanied by a soundtrack — take Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which featured video explanations of chocolate being made until showtime — others have been more interactive.
At Mommie Dearest, Estefan and a group of collaborators held up a Ouija board blanket and called the spirit of Joan Crawford to the screen (Bette Davis and Little Richard also showed up). At Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Natural Born Killers, audience members could take high school yearbook photos and mugshots respectively with screening photographer Ren Feria. At Alien, Estefan placed his SCS partner and director of operations, Bryan Herrero, on stage in a helmet to read his fantasies, which ended up bringing to life a real alien who seductively roamed through the audience while the music video for George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” played on screen. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But it’s a bundle of fun, and Estefan keeps it limited to certain films.
None quite compares to the experience of Creepshow. In the pre-show, a creature came out and terrorized some of the audience just as it does in the film, but it was during the film that the real creativity showed up. As characters drown on screen, the audience was sprayed with water. As cockroaches piled up on screen, audiences were rained down upon with fake ones.
Things have changed a lot since the early days of Shirley’s, Estefan’s film screenings at the Wynwood bar Gramps, which are still an occurrence, and even since the days at Gables when he was only rarely indulging in showmanship like dressing up for Little Shop of Horrors and just setting up playlists before screenings. “I think we’ve mutated because change is inevitable, whether you like it or not,” he explains. “It’s in human nature to evolve or die, and that’s part of what happened to us. We do this because we’re excited about it. The only natural progression is to get more and more excited about it.”
This extends to the audience, some of whom even dress up for the films, adding to the immersive element of the screenings. Even the O Cinema crew enjoys dressing up and showing up to screenings sometimes. When Estefan was making the transition from Gables to O, his future location’s theater manager, Kevin Bosch, and assistant manager Rick de Bara dressed up for Back to the Future.
“The dressing up comes from the pure excitement of the people who come, though,” Estefan says. “You can’t force people to dress up. This genuine enthusiasm for film is what brings the audience out because they love movies as much as we do.”
Even O Cinema co-founder Kareem Tabsch is on board with the excitement and has already promised this writer he will consider dressing up with him for an upcoming screening of The Birdcage on 35mm. “What’s special about SCS is the sense of community and camaraderie,” Tabsch says. “A group of film lovers of all ages and backgrounds coming together with other like-minded folks and getting lost in the spectacle of cinema for a few hours.”
In discussing all he has planned for the film-loving community, Estefan quotes John Waters: “Life is nothing if you’re not obsessed.” Not only has he booked the next two months of films — to be shown on 35mm — but he has his remodeled bookmobile ready and set to pop-up all over Miami for screenings of all kinds.
“There were a couple of screenings that almost happened, but between the terrible weather lately and some exterior factors, it’s been pushed further,” he explains of his Knight Foundation-sponsored project, refusing to disclose any of the cancelled screenings. But he does note that this isn’t uncommon. “For every SCS screening that happens, there’s four that don’t, and if people hear the ones that didn’t happen, they’d be ripping their faces off.”
Where the mobile projector will likely debut in October, its exciting line-up has yet to be announced, Estefan has mentioned that he plans on not limiting the vehicle for himself. “It will be available to present content for other groups, societies, individuals and organizations,” he explains.
The evolution of SCS won’t stop there, and Estefan is excited for what the future holds, even when and if Miami goes underwater for good. “Miami has this mentality about celebrating everything, and maybe that’s because we’re about to become Atlantis,” he jokes. “We’ll screen Waterworld underwater once that happens, and everyone will have to come with scuba tanks.”
This Saturday, July 30, Secret Celluloid Society will host a 35mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey at O Cinema Miami Beach. The screening event begins at 11:30 p.m. For tickets, click here. Images, from top to bottom, Patrick Farrell, Nayib Estefan, Juan Barquin and Abraham Brezo.