Cincinnati World Cinema Opens a Permanent Home in the Former Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Space

The film company's new cinema screens films in a boutique downtown theater

Sep 4, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Cincinnati World Cinema's new theater is located at 719 Race St. - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Cincinnati World Cinema's new theater is located at 719 Race St.

It’s late on a weekday morning, and Cincinnati World Cinema’s Tim Swallow is inside his organization’s new downtown Garfield Theatre, screening a movie for an audience of two — himself and this writer.

It’s not even a film he’s planning to show, once the theater’s programming gets underway in earnest in September (after a soft-opening presentation of the documentary Dark Money for one weekend in August). But it’s one dearly important to him — Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 film In the Mood for Love, which is internationally praised for its inventive and intensive use of color. After setting things up at a table on the stage in back of the screen, he takes his place in a seat to watch the film be rear-projected.

In The Mood for Love is a great test,” he says. “We have a brand new OPPO (digital player) deck that upscales Blu-ray (disc quality) to near 4K, so it’s a great picture, but you’re also able to see the shadows and how deep the blacks are. Plus the film’s costume design is so colorful. There are a lot of scenes where things just pop. That makes it a great test.”

It’s a successful test, he believes, for the Garfield Theatre, at 719 Race St. on the first floor of the Garfield Tower, formerly the home of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Now the 150 seats inside its Mark P. Painter Theatre await discovery when the high-profile film presentations start in September.

Swallow has rented the Garfield out to Brand Old Productions on Sept. 15-16 to show a Cincinnati-made drama, 75. Sept. 22 brings one half of what Swallow calls a “Stage & Screen” combo — he’s presenting the 1966 film version of the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum while Cincy Shakes offers a stage version at its new home in Over-the-Rhine. On Sept. 26, Cincinnati World Cinema is bringing in the new documentary about Joan Jett, Bad Reputation. On Oct. 13-14, it is presenting Katherine Durack’s Suffragists in Cincinnati, which includes the documentary Iron Jawed Angels.

And in probably the Garfield’s biggest booking to date, on Nov. 3-4 director Sky Bergman is coming to Cincinnati for three screenings of her new documentary Lives Well Lived, which celebrates the experiences, wit and wisdom of adults ages 75-100. This film has become a grassroots sensation since it started being distributed in March — its website shows bookings in 26 states and Canada, including six cities in Ohio alone.

Swallow’s Cincinnati World Cinema has been presenting movies at various locations around town since 2002, from Cincinnati Art Museum to the Showboat Majestic. It has most recently been at Memorial Hall, primarily to show its annual Oscar Shorts presentations.

The Garfield will allow for an increase in activity, plus establish regular days for showings that fans count on (although Swallow still plans to use the larger Memorial Hall for Oscar Shorts). 

“Probably two films a month was it for us on a regular basis previously, so we can stretch to an additional film, additional (screenings), or both,” Swallow says. “We’re looking at retrospectives, at some classics. We’ve got a young guy on the programming committee who’s gung-ho on some horror films. That probably won’t pull many of the old salts of Cincinnati World Cinema, but there seems to be a burgeoning population of younger people who are interested. We’ll have a neighborhood theater feel.”

Swallow also plans to rent it out for uses other than film screenings — a podcaster and an a cappella group have already been booked, he says.

When Cincinnati Shakespeare Company moved from the 719 Race location in 2017 to its own new building in Over-the-Rhine, Swallow saw a chance for a permanent home. Knowing the first-floor spot inside the high-rise apartment building had once housed boutique-size movie theaters — including the famous Movieola/The Movies repertory cinema of the 1980s — he negotiated a lease. And then, since there wasn’t much left inside besides the seats, he started creating a theater he could be proud of.

And he is proud, during a tour. It starts right at the front entrance, where the black awning above the glass doors has “Cincinnati World Cinema” in fiery-colored lettering. Next to that, shaped like a circular logo patch, is the wording “The Garfield Theatre.”

Inside the lobby, he points to the frames on the wall for movie posters — a holdover from previous owners. “We just had some large-format posters printed that will fill the display cases perfectly. I’m lucky to have the frames.”

Inside the auditorium itself, Swallow has cut back the old Cincinnati Shakespeare stage. “That’s so at some point, if we want, we can add another row,” he says. “We certainly have room for wheelchairs and accessibility.”

He has placed his professional 16-by-9-foot screen, which sits on a basic truss configuration, in the middle of that stage, with JBL Eon speakers on either side. “This throws the house quite nice,” he says of the sound. 

Inside the actual theater, formerly a black box when Cincinnati Shakespeare had it, the concrete-block walls have been painted a lively, warm red. The wood pillars are flat black, “to be as invisible as possible.”

Cincinnati World Cinema is a nonprofit organization, but its only board members are founders Swallow, his wife Margaret and John Alberti, a Northern Kentucky University professor and English program director (who will lead a discussion after the Joan Jett film). It welcomes volunteers. “I tried to avoid boards as much as I can,” Swallow says. “When you’re running a small shop, it’s just another encumbrance.” 

However, he says, “We’re going to grow it. We’re adding people in advisory groups to see how they do. And it’s under consideration to sell memberships; we want to make sure can we can do it right. But I don’t see a mass explosion into a big organization. I see it step by step.”

For more info on Cincinnati World Cinema (719 Race St., Downtown), visit