503 SE 6th Street,
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Located in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, Cinema Paradiso’s most unique feature (aside from it’s content) is that it’s housed in a renovated church building. Dating back to the earlier half of the century, the building was constructed as the First Methodist Church of Fort Lauderdale. Once the church moved to a bigger location, the building went under the charge of the County, where it functions reportedly ranged from a family-counseling center to narcotics storage for the courthouse. In the mid 80s the building was retrofitted as a stage theater for use by the actress, director, and playwright Vinnette Carroll, the first African-American woman to direct a Broadway show, and became the Vinnette Carroll Theater.
In the late 90s, after Ms. Carroll fell ill and activity in the theater declined, the County handed management of the building over to the Broward County Film Society. A second renovation commenced, this time to fit the existing theater with film projection equipment. Around 2000, the movie theater opened as the Festival Arts Cinema, primarily used for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Eventually renamed Cinema Paradiso, in homage to the Oscar-winning film that featured a church turned movie house, the theater opened as a year-round art house cinema. A few years later the theater went through its third renovation, this time updating the projection and sound equipment, redoing the seating platform (eliminating the theater-in-the-round feature that wasn’t conductive to movie watching), installing plush velvet seats and cosmetically updating the theater and lobby.
Today the theater is still operated by the Broward County Film Society, functioning as it’s headquarters, and is featured predominantly during the annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The theater specializes in foreign, American independent and retrospective films, but also periodically holds live theater performances. It has even gone far back enough to its roots where it has hosted wedding services.
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