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Hands off Tower Theater: Supporters fight for beloved cinema to remain with Miami Dade College

 Writer and filmmaker Gabriel Rhenals protesting outside the MDC Tower Theater in Miami
Helen Acevedo
/
WLRN
Writer and filmmaker Gabriel Rhenals protesting outside the MDC Tower Theater in Miami

Supporters of the Tower Theatre gathered outside the building to protest the City of Miami’s decision to take over management of the beloved arthouse cinema.

The Little Havana institution has been operated by Miami Dade College for 20 years. Last week, it emerged the city had suddenly decided to end the contract — sending shockwaves through the community.

“The theater means so much to us. Our grandparents came here to see movies and now we get to show our own movies here and it's kind of this beautiful full circle thing,” said Chris Molina, a Miami filmmaker who organized yesterday's protest. “It really hurts to see that Joe Carollo and the other commissioners are taking that away from us.

The protest came after a press conference where city officials defended their decision to end the contract.

Commissioner Carollo, whose district includes Little Havana, said the city will put on plays, hold rotating art exhibits and show films in Spanish and English. The college will still be able to use the theater for the Miami Film Festival, he said.

“The best of the Tower Theater is not in its past. The best of the Tower Theater is just beginning. …  The golden years of the Tower Theater will begin now,' Carollo said.

 Protesters gather outside Tower Theater to fight for the cinema to remain under Miami Dade College management
Helen Acevedo
/
WLRN
Protesters gather outside Tower Theater to fight for the cinema to remain under Miami Dade College management

In addition, he said the city plans to use the building in part as a welcome center for tourists, with films and brochures about sightseeing in Miami.

Zerry Ihekwaba, deputy city manager, said the city should have been receiving fees from the theater, but that has not happened. He said: “We need to expand the services that the theater provides to the community … to expand access to different aspects of entertainment.”

At the protest, which took over the sidewalk in Miami's Calle Ocho, Turner Cathey said he is worried the theater will end up like the Coconut Grove Playhouse, which closed down in 2006.

I don't think the city of Miami could — if they really intend to do that — do any better than Miami Dade College has done. I think it's a smoke screen, just like the Coconut Grove Playhouse. What happened there? The city took it and it's doesn't exist anymore. It's [a] shambles,” he said.

Gia Adams Wheeler is an avid visitor of the MDC Tower Theater. She says that when she moved to Miami from Boston, she became a part of the community of filmmakers and viewers at the theatre and has visited every week since.

She worries the city's programming will not be up to the standard of MDC's.

“I saw that the city of Miami wants to use this for tourism purposes and still keep it some sort of Center for the Arts. But honestly, I don't think it compare to the quality of programming that goes into it from MDC.” she said. “This team truly does their research, knows they know cinema. And there's a huge following here in Miami.”

Gabriel Rhenals, a writer and filmmaker, said he was fearful the change in management would "cut off a lot of the programming that many of the supporters of the theater... want to preserve and save."

Supporters of the theatre plan to take their protest to the City Commission at its meeting on October 13th.

Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
Ammy Sanchez, the Morning Edition producer for WLRN, studies communications at the Honors College at Florida International University.
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