Robbie Rosenberg is a lanky charmer who smiles a lot. Especially when he's talking about the success of the Coral Gables Art Cinema. He's the Director of this state-of-the-art house and he's happiest when he's extolling the wonders within its doors.
He's a Manhattan boy, born 56 years ago in Mt Sinai Hospital and raised in Queens and Long Island. He made his first films in high school and earned his BA in Human Biology at the intensive, no grade Hampshire College. Two years of lab research followed and then it was the world of film and dance and art and theatre, culminating in his present position.
Film is his first love, but a close second is his love of the outdoors. Cycling, kayaking, running on the beach; that's how you can be 6'2” and 175 lbs.
He shares an apartment on Miami Beach with his two cats, Negrito and Cloud, (I'm not the best housekeeper, he admits) and on weekends often likes to visit Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne where he goes running and listens to the music mixes he makes for the films at the Cinema: perhaps a little Pink, a little Latin rock, a little Arabic pop. He brings a book and breakfast and the day’s complete.
His biggest successes in life? (He 's still smiling): making his 1986 Emmy award winning feature film, Before Stonewall, co-founding the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 1998 with, among others, miamiartzine's Harvey J. Burstein, and now, directing the Coral Gables Art Cinema.
And his biggest failure? (Still smiling) Writing a bunch of film scripts, none of which have yet been produced.
Robbie Rosenberg played piano and trumpet in a Jazz Band in high school and loves Jimi Hendrix. He secretly wanted to be a rock and roll star, and he also studied modern dance. And he found time to act a little in community theatre. He believes in keeping himself exposed to everything artistic; he attends performing arts events regularly, and especially likes GableStage and Latin performers. He speaks, reads and writes Spanish “decently”, learning it in his daily life, picking it up through friends and at work. He took a few courses, including “a great one at MDC Wolfson that helped with some grammar”
Robbie had been giving me a tour of the theatre while I'd been pumping him about his personal life but it was obvious he'd much rather talk about the Coral Gables Art Cinema. We were sitting in the upstairs gallery with its museum worthy collection of old film cameras, projectors, movie posters and memorabilia. “I like film,” he said, “because you can mix the artistic and the technical.”
The not-for-profit cinema opened in October 2010. It's actually attached to the Parking Garage at 260 Aragon Avenue (discounted parking for cinema patrons) and is in a double height space that originally was designated as a utility room. The City of Coral Gables decided it should be used as an art cinema and in 2006 Steven Krams, owner of the Magna-Tech Electronic Company and Continental Film & Digital Labs founded and became president of the non-profit Coral Gables Cinemateque which helped build and now operates the facility.
The house seats 141 in a well-raked configuration. For live shows, interlocking risers pull out and form a stage across the full width of the cinema. Stairs and a wheelchair ramp are included. There is also a basic lighting grid. Robbie led me into the projection room, proudly showing me the 35mm and state-of-the-art theatrical quality DCP 4K projector with 3D, with sources including servers, DigiBeta, BluRay and standard DVD, and Dolby CP500 digital sound. All the very latest toys.
There's also a gourmet cafe with wine and beer and an outdoor patio with covered seating, which blends well in the burgeoning Coral Gables Arts District with its Art Museum and Books and Books across the street.
The cinema features first run movies as well as foreign and independent films and classics. A specialty is the Miami-Dade exclusive running of BBC films of stage plays. The "Live from the National Theatre of London" series of plays will continue this fall with presentations of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Last of the Haussmans and Timon of Athens. Robbie picks the movies, but he does get some input from board members, the six person staff and volunteers.
Open every day of the year, the cinema is one of the highest grossing art houses in South Florida, with, and this is a rarity, ticket sales providing two thirds of the income. The other third comes from donations, grants and memberships.
The theatre's influence is spread widely across South Florida; some patrons drive from as far away as Palm Beach, Naples and Key West.
I asked Robbie for a Director's Statement:
“It's so important, in this networked and multiplatform media world we now live in, for the Gables Cinema to be an active movie-going experience, to draw people in and away from their home screens. That's a big reason that, with almost all our films, we have panel discussions, parties, live Q&A's with directors, actors, writers and producers, etc. - it' s value-added and provides more depth. Of course, our Cafe as well, with wine, beer and great locally sourced foods, with our outdoor plaza, again brings in a great social element to the theater experience."
And finally, saying goodbye on the patio while a thunderstorm burst overhead, I asked Robert Rosenberg for his idea of happiness and he came right back with: “Doing things you love with people you love.”