Film for thought: Cincinnati World Cinema shows artistic, diverse movies downtown

There were once close to thirty movie theaters in downtown Cincinnati. In 1998, the last of them, at Race and Garfield, closed its doors. But that’s about to change as the Garfield Theatre is transformed into Cincinnati World Cinema’s new headquarters, set to open on August 17th.

President Tim Swallow says that the 163-seat venue will show a regular schedule of Cincinnati World Cinema film and discussion events. Other uses of the Garfield in coming years will include hosting theatrical readings, corporate meetings, live performances, and special events for community groups.

From Friday, August 17th through Sunday, August 19th, the Cincinnati World Cinema will present five screenings of the Sundance award-winning documentary Dark Money, a political thriller about the secret assault on the American electoral and judicial process by corporations with an agenda to dismantle the government. Full details are on the Cincinnati World Cinema website.

Swallow is delighted that the Garfield, built in 1970 as the Mid-States Cinema, is the first movie theater to reopen in downtown Cincinnati.

Renovations underway at the Garfield include installations of a large screen, a digital projector, a sound system, wireless microphones, and theatrical lighting. Freshly painted walls and new lobby flooring as well as a special ADA passageway will be completed by opening day.

Parking will not be a problem in this downtown location, Swallow says, because in the vicinity of the Garfield are 2,200 reasonably-priced parking spaces, including the Gramercy Garage, the Garfield Garage, and Macy’s Garage, all offering $3 fees after 4 p.m. and on weekends, corresponding to film times.

Now in its 17th year, the Cincinnati World Cinema has a unique programming mission to show films that celebrate the human condition and honor cultural diversity, particularly the many high-quality works that bypass this market.

Cincinnati World Cinema plans to continue showing films that command a larger attendance, such as the popular Oscar Shorts and the Oscar Short Documentaries, at the 550-seat Memorial Hall.

Jim Kesner, one of the founders of Cincinnati World Cinema.Retired arts marketer and communications strategist Swallow met scientist Jim Kesner when they volunteered for the 2001 Cincinnati International Film Festival (CIFF) as foreign film curators. Swallow, who had spent many happy summers of his youth watching films and assisting in movie theater projection rooms in downtown Cincinnati, was seeking to find joy in doing something he loved. Kesner had a busy scientific career but always found time to pursue his passion for art films. Both were often frustrated to read about outstanding films that had come out but never made it to Cincinnati.

Swallow collaborated with Kesner to share ideas about how to get quality films to come to Cincinnati. Their brainstorming resulted in the idea of creating the Cincinnati World Cinema.

“We both recognized the need and opportunity to organize a mechanism to present these high-quality, highly entertaining films to local tri-state audiences which would otherwise be ignored by the local multiplexes and art house theaters,” says Kesner.

In 2002 Cincinnati World Cinema began its run by showing two Afghani films, Kandahar and Jung (War) in the Land of the Muhaheddin at the Esquire Theatre and at the University of Cincinnati.

For 17 years, Cincinnati World Cinema has exclusively presented the Oscar-Nominated Short Films, establishing and building a market for short films in Cincinnati. They also regularly present other short film programs, plus the British Arrows, Sundance Film Festival Shorts, and Lunafest.

Cincinnati World Cinema introduced post-film Q&A discussions for audiences to interact with the filmmakers and other individuals with life experiences related to the films. Additionally, the Cinema added value to the experience by providing viewers with a social hour and refreshments.

“As a group of non-profit volunteers who loved movies and loved talking with audiences, we recognized that Cincinnati World Cinema had incredible programming and logistical potentials,” says Kesner. He remains a big supporter of the Cincinnati World Cinema but has not been part of the formal organization since 2004.

Over the past 17 years, Cincinnati World Cinema has presented films in venues throughout the Cincinnati area, including the Esquire Theatre, University of Cincinnati Pavilion, NKU Greaves Hall, St. John’s Unitarian and Universalist Church, New Thought Unity Center, The Carnegie in Covington, the Madison Theater, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Showboat Majestic, and Memorial Hall.

In contrast, the Cincinnati World Cinema’s now permanent home at the Garfield Theatre represents an entirely new business model with a consistent schedule of film viewing.

Learning how to curate films was an exciting challenge for Swallow, who has read exhaustively about film and repertory cinema. He is proud that the Cincinnati World Cinema owns an extensive library of literature on filmmaking and film history.

Cincinnati World Cinema is an organization powered by nearly forty volunteers, including a programming committee that selects films focusing on cultural and societal issues. Among the array of films chosen are international, documentary, and American independent movies, live-action and animated shorts, and locally produced works.

Swallow feels exceptionally fortunate to have professionals and retirees make time to volunteer for Cincinnati World Cinema. Most of them have been volunteering for ten years or more. With the expansion in the program and the advent of the new facility, Swallow is eager to add more volunteers. Opportunities abound at Cincinnati World Cinema in such areas as IT, arranging for speakers, fundraising and development, social media, membership, and expanding age segments to include students and retirement communities.

There are currently over 6,000 followers of the film group. On the website, it’s easy to join the mailing list and receive notices about the latest news.

Because of the film group’s stated commitment to create a common bond — from the onscreen experience to the discussions which flow afterward — Swallow looks forward to working with nearby restaurants and venues such as Butcher and Barrel, a bar and grill at 700 Race Street, and The Phoenix at 812 Race Street, as places for movie-goers to gather before and after the show to socialize and talk about cinema.

“Our patrons tell us that Cincinnati World Cinema has become an important part of the community’s cultural fabric,” Swallow says. Though he sees its main purpose as meeting the film needs of the intellectually curious, he is no film snob. “I just want to show quality films that mean something to regular people.”

Cincinnati World Cinema, 719 Race St., Cincinnati OH 45202, (859) 957-3456,

Read more articles by Connie Springer.