Late-Night 35mm Film Screenings Save the Soul of Cinema in Miami

“Buy the ticket, take the ride,” says Nayib Estefan, the founder of the Secret Celluloid Society.

by Noémie Jennifer
Feb 29 2016, 3:25pm

All images courtesy of Secret Celluloid Society

“Like a slow moving fungus or that green moss that covers Stephen King in Creepshow—slow and deadly,” Miami’s Secret Celluloid Society has evolved, says Nayib Estefan, the Society’s founder. SCS was founded in 2012 to preserve the art of 16mm and 35mm film, presenting late-night screenings of classics “in the format in which they were intended to be projected.”

After humble beginnings at a drive-in, then a makeshift grindhouse cinema in the back of a Miami bar “with alcohol available at all times and free popcorn,” SCS just wrapped up a mostly sold out 130-show run at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, in the suburbs of Miami. Now the Society is moving to O Cinema in Miami Beach for a series of midnight screenings every Saturday.

In an email to The Creators Project, drafted in the midst of preparations for two back-to-back screenings last Saturday, Estefan’s infectious energy comes through: “I always shoot for a ‘theme park on LSD’ experience with immersive elements. We blasted the audience with freezing liquid nitrogen smoke when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man exploded in Ghostbusters. One time I dressed as The Fly, jumped through the curtain and bolted through the crowd holding neon green LED lamps pointed at my mask. Sometimes the surprise is playing an unplayed print of a really old movie.”

SCS has also become known for its shadow casts and surprise drop-ins—director Kevin Tenney brought his personal print of Night of the Demons for a Halloween screening, and Stephen Trask and Lena Hall, of the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, came down for the 35mm screening of the film and sang some of the songs. “It is always cosmic,” promises Estefan.

Estefan and moviegoers at the Dick Tracy screening

Even with the effort required to pull off those crafty hijinks, SCS stays true to its mission to make analog projections more accessible. “As much as the ancillary madness that surrounds the events is insane, we are a straightforward film screening series with affordable ticket prices,” comments the Society’s gatekeeper. Estefan is driven by his lifelong love of film. “I was raised by VHS,” he writes, sharing fond memories of watching horror and cult movies at an all-too-early age. “One time my grandfather and I went to go see Creepshow and he left me in there while he went to do something. That feeling stayed with me the rest of my life, like ‘I shouldn’t be watching this, but it’s awesome,’" he remembers.

When it comes to the magic of analog versus digital projection, Estefan is not short on words or emotions: “Digital is a cheap and easy cop out where every screening, no matter when and where, looks exactly the same, and the studios like that. You will never see a digital screening burn up in front of your eyes. The 35mm prints have history. Every scratch, cigarette burn or splice was earned, and show the history of the print. Film was designed to die gracefully over a long period of time.”

To catch Secret Celluloid Society screenings at O Cinema in Miami Beach, stay informed here.


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secret celluloid society
Nayib Estefan