The Secret Celluloid Society is the pioneer of an underground celluloid-obsessed film cult in Miami. Held primarily at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and on the “SCS Road Shows,” and now a mobile-projection truck for pop-up screenings, SCS has seduced Miami by reviving the authentic film screening experience with classic film gems projected on 16 MM and 35 MM reels, free popcorn, and a cool crowd. With a strong following of the young and geeky to the older film aficionados, once 11PM hits on Saturday night, a long line circling the block confirms that Miami loves celluloid film. In the hallway of the Coral Gables Art Cinema, I sat down with Nayib Estefan, founder of Secret Celluloid Society, at a screening of “Brazil”, the 1985 sci-fi thriller from Terry Gilliam.
Third Dream Media: You brought your roadshow upstate – how was New York? Do you go out-of-state for roadshows often?
Nayib Estefan: It was awesome. Lately I have; we had a road show in Brooklyn – it was really fun.
Halloween must have been fun – you made Miami cinema history.
Halloween was awesome – around 400 people showed up to party through 4 back-to-back great films, and have 9 am breakfast. Saw everyone in costumes, it was long, but worth it.
Why did you start Secret Celluloid Society?
Well, I started it because I used to go to a lot of screenings in Los Angeles and I moved down here to have a baby (2010) and did some screenings with Borscht Corp. I was able to have stuff going on over here in Miami, like how they have in L.A. & New York. It was like getting “cut off” – you had to be resourceful. I was used to seeing all these amazing movies, & then I came to Miami, and there just wasn’t anything playing. SCS basically started from scratch. It’s cool to be able to sustain and continue screenings.
What were the challenges of starting?
It was brutal. We started it with a couple screenings at a drive-in, that were awesome, but really brutal to get through.
Why were they brutal?
It was just, the drive-in guy was very difficult.
Do you think it was a profit challenge or audience challenge?
No, it was basically having to go through other people to do something that is best done by yourself. “DIY” – the whole evolution of Secret Celluloid Society has become DIY because it has to be – when you have other people in the mix, it affects the vibe of SCS. Kind of like “Grateful Dead,” it’s all about the vibe. It’s like setting the right balance for the movies – the atmosphere before and during – (Mid-thought, Nayib jolts up to check the theater – he opens the door to uncover Terry Gilliam’s world of “Brazil”, the 11:30 pm screening SCS “After Hours”.) It’s Nelson’s (projectionist) first night running reel-to-reel and he’s lighting “Brazil”.
Tonite (11.7) at 11:30 BRAZIL : THE DIRECTOR’S CUT 35MM $7 w/ free popcorn / alcohol / concessions advance tix at gablescinema.com or at box office #BRAZIL #secretcelluloidsociety #35MM A photo posted by Secret Celluloid Society (@secretcelluloidsociety) on
What is reel-to-reel?
There’s two ways of projecting 35MM: one of them is on a “platter system”. When you do it on the platter system, you build the whole movie on a platter, and it just plays through one projector; but a lot of people won’t give you prints if you put them on platters because it damages the prints sometimes. It stays on the platter so it goes up through these little spools and it goes down and around, you know, sometimes it wears on the edges. So with the reel-to-reel, the reel goes from one reel, down through the gate (where the light goes through), and then it goes to another reel. So it doesn’t really have the much damage to it. We just upgraded to reel-to-reel, which gives us access to more archival prints & stuff like that. It’s more challenging, because you have to switch the reel. It’s a two-projector set-up & you have to switch the reel, every 20 minutes.
So in a 2 and ½ hour film, you’re switching 8 times, live?
Yeah, like he’s changing reels right now.
(We peer into the theater once more, the soundtrack of “Brazil” is crisp, booming, and the print is phenomal – color correction and frame is ideal.)
What have you gained from the Secret Celluloid Society experience?
Two things. One, the ability to continue doing screenings. And two, the ability to fine-tune it and kind of dial it in, to where its really tight. I like providing the right experience for people and I think we’ve gotten a little bit better at it.
Why Coral Gables?
It a really nice theater, really nice people, and they have the ability to run 35 mm and have a nice café. They believed in me to be a “big-room” guy. I used to do “small-room” screenings, in Shirley’s and Gramps, a place I helped design, and we did over 160 screenings there. It was a lot, but it was really cool because it was in a small room, a lot more personal. It was more of a social experiment than a movie theater, because you’d play some really intense stuff in there or some fun, party stuff and you’d see how the crowd dynamic is a main part of the actual screening itself. Like watching a movie with the right people is the way to do it because then, you’re not alone, you’re with a bunch of people who are vibing, it’s like a concert or something. You’re always going to have the live element be more fun then just sitting at home. And I think that’s what SCS is – a crew of people who are all like-minded individuals.
Can you tell us about Snake Alley?
Snake Alley is an underground market in Downtown, happening this Saturday November 14th, 2015.
What’s going to go down there?
That’s all I can say. You’re going to have to stick around our Instagram to figure out.
Why do you wear a black hat & a full black jumpsuit?
It’s what was given to me, it’s what they told me to wear. I can’t question them.
Who are “they?” Is there more levels of secrecy to the SCS?
I’m not entitled to share.
So what can you expect from a Secret Celluloid Society screening? Apart from a selection of craft beer & wine from the café, a crowd of a non-pretentious, social film buffs & artists, an occasional live interactive theater performance, cackling laughs, absurd “Cuban-themed” comments, and a teaching of celluloid film and the most honest collection of film, there is an after-effect “high” of the Secret Celluloid Society experience. Hang in the lobby after screenings for a podcast, meet your fellow members of the cult, and clear your Saturday nights on your schedule from now on. While the ever-anticipated “Snake Alley” event is under-wraps, the event will take place November 14th, in Downtown Miami, followed by a screening of “Videodrome” (35 MM) at Coral Gables Art Cinema. See the full screening schedule at http://www.secretcelluloidsociety.com/ & follow their Instagram @secretcelluloidsociety for future updates!