Dana Keith, Director of the Miami Beach Cinematheque and founder of the Miami Beach Film Society, talks about the value of art theaters, the unique vibe of his cinema/museum, and how to make a life’s work from love of movies.
Dana Keith has been in love with cinema for a long long time. While he was studying film and fine arts in the University of California, Santa Barbara, he was also designer and editor of the film magazine Focus. After graduating he traveled to Europe, where he was a full time model for Versace, but continued to nurture his passion for film by visiting every cinema and museum he could get his hands on. During this journey, he amassed a gorgeous collection of film memorabilia which he then made a home for when he returned to the States and created the Miami Beach Film Society and, subsequently, the Miami Beach Cinematheque. After seeing the latter, I had to ask him a few questions about it.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Miami Beach Cinematheque for the first time and it was hands down the most beautiful movie theater I have ever seen. Could you tell us a little more about what’s behind the aesthetic? Did you draw inspiration from a particular venue you’ve visited in the past, or something along those lines?
Thanks for your kind words about MBC. The inspiration came originally from the years I spent in Europe around cinematheques and film museums, but more specifically from our original Miami Beach Cinematheque location on Espanola Way. In 2009 when we were preparing to upgrade and move, we had our eye on the space in the Historic City Hall because the building is 1920’s Spanish Colonial Revival like Espanola Way, and the design potential fit right into our original approach. We demolished the ugly parking department and built MBC with respect for the architecture, matching the interior as if it had always been there, with wrought iron railings and a library concept. Building the place was as big a project as programming it.
The first thing I was told upon entering is that it also functioned as a gallery and, indeed, it is decked with beautiful photographs and old-school cinema memorabilia. Is this curation an individual endeavor or do you collaborate with someone else?
We have one of the world’s most complete collections of film history memorabilia and ephemera, in fact we just won the Knight Arts Challenge grant to digitize and display it. We will be releasing an amazing interactive presentation soon, illustrating the history of cinema country by country and decade by decade. Each few months we will release a new decade, with events that give overviews with a guest speaker each time. Hopefully the FIU students will be interested in attending those events. It will really be a unique way to experience the history of world cinema. The collection, specifically of vintage film programs, heralds, flyers and announcements from all over the world from 1895 to today, is one I started when I was eight years old. Other than our own exhibitions of that memorabilia, which will continue to supplement the digital presentation, we work with photographers and guest curators for exhibitions in the photographic gallery. Right now, for example, during Art Basel, we will be exhibiting “Fourth Wave Feminist: The Photographic Works of Leah Schrager” curated by filmmaker Robert Adanto, who will be screening his documentary about the artists.
I read on a Miami New Times article that you traveled a lot in your youth and that you amassed your collection of vintage film materials from various countries in Europe. Do you have a favorite, in terms of its film scene/culture?
My favorite city in the world is Paris because there are so many art and repertory cinemas and film institutions, plus easy access to the Cannes Film Festival which I somehow have not missed in thirty five years. After graduating from the film department at UC Santa Barbara, I spent the eighties traveling Europe and visiting film museums and auctions, developing the archive which will finally get a major platform this year thanks to the Knight Foundation.
Has owning and managing your own movie theater changed your personal experience of going to the movies?
You bet it has. I believe that the experience of going to see a film is as important as the film itself. By being able to demonstrate that with an intimate, inviting environment in this day and age of impersonal cineplexes and online streaming at home or on cellphones makes me feel that MBC is a project worth keeping alive. The more I see films presented in ways that are not ideal for experiencing them, especially on computers or phones that destroy any type of subtleties in mood, sound, and emotional connections that were intended by the filmmakers, the more I find the need to provide an environment that retains those elements. And if that environment invites the visitor to participate further, before of after the screening, even better.
It’s easy to see why people pursue a career in filmmaking, it’s lucrative (well…), it’s fun, and it’s a medium in which you could expose your art to millions. You yourself have made a career… I guess out of film appreciation? What sparked that in you? Do you think there’s more to do there that new generations could aspire to?
The Miami Beach Cinematheque is a non-profit cinema, owned and operated by the Miami Beach Film Society, the non-profit organization that I founded in 1993 and still manage. That is the best business model for art cinemas because they are not 100% driven by making money at the box office, thanks to government grants, foundation funding and personal donations. This is definitely a project and career built on and nurturing appreciation. Appreciation for the art of cinema, both on and off the screen. Hopefully some of that appreciation inspires others to appreciate too. That is the whole point, in a nutshell.
Article by: Carlos Paolini
Carlos is interning for the FIU Film Studies Program, Fall 2016 semester. He majors in English and is also pursuing the FIU Film Studies Certificate.