Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp in “Before Night Falls.”
In the 1990s, the Alliance Cinema was the pulse of South Beach–a center for independent film culture and, most importantly for me, a safe space for a burgeoning queer community. It’s where I met Javier Bardem onscreen for the first time in “Jamon, Jamon” (1992), a film about an aspiring bullfighter and underwear model hired to seduce another man’s pregnant girlfriend. In 1994, I saw “Kika,” my least favorite film by my favorite filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar. I saw countless other films at the Alliance, most of them lost to memory, save for the memory of that sacred space.
In that dark, single-screen, six-row theater, I felt safe watching films that revealed the multitudes of being and becoming queer, with my community sitting next to me. It would pull me out of darkness more than once.
The Alliance Cinema closed in 2000.
Shortly thereafter, I was reunited with Bardem in “Before Night Falls” on the big screen–this time in an uncomfortably mainstream theater. The film, based on the autobiography of Cuban poet, novelist, fierce anti-Castro activist and proud homosexual Reinaldo Arenas, explores Arenas’ turbulent and truculent life in Cuba, his exile to New York and ultimately his AIDS-related death. I watched it the same year that my best friend died of an AIDS-related illness.
I felt then, as I do now, that Miami needs more Alliances.
In 2012, I founded Reading Queer in an effort to help fill that void. And last year, Reading Queer and O Cinema–both Knight-funded organizations–joined forces to screen “Paris Is Burning,” the legendary 1980s documentary that chronicled New York City’s queer ball culture. The screening was sold out.
It was the first time in more than two decades that I sat in a theater packed with members of the queer community and our allies. Young and old. Men and women. Gender nonconforming and nonbinary. Latinos, whites, blacks and Muslims. All crowded together in this new sacred space. Nothing can bring back the Alliance, but O Cinema creates a real sense of community. One that we want to continue building.
On June 28, Reading Queer and O Cinema will partner once again to launch Queer Screens: LGBTQ Film Series, a project funded by a Miami Foundation/National LGBTQ Task Force GLBT Community Projects Fund grant. The series will feature a diverse range of queer-centric films that illuminate the varied and nuanced aspects of the lives of queer people. The goal is for the film series to provide a safe space for the queer community and our allies to hang out and watch films together. To laugh and cry together. Talk about cinema. Connect and eat popcorn. Drink beer. And congregate in peace.
The series, which will include films such as “Watermelon Women” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” opens on June 28 with a screening of “Before Night Falls” at O Cinema Wynwood. The evening will conclude with an offering of poems to honor Reinaldo Arenas and those we have lost. Bring your favorite poem.
Tickets to the June 28 screening of “Before Night Falls” are available online.