By Karina Valdes

Award-winning film critic, Rene Rodriguez, is joining the University of Miami School of Communication as manager of the acclaimed Bill Cosford Cinema. Rodriguez comes to UM with more than 25 years of experience as a film critic with the Miami Herald.

“Rene’s expertise in cinema and familiarity with our local and institutional histories are critical as we re-imagine new directions and leverage the significance of this as a cultural space,” said Dean Karin Wilkins, School of Communication.

Rodriguez began his new role at the beginning of November and has already developed various plans for revitalizing the cinema, which has been closed since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Dec. 3, the Cosford reopens with the film The Hand of God, an autobiographical drama about a teenage boy growing up in Naples, Italy in the tumultuous 1980s, written and directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (Youth, The Great Beauty). The movie is Italy’s official entry for the 2022 Academy Awards.

“The Cosford Cinema has consistently championed filmmaking in all its forms with a particular emphasis on screening works that are otherwise inaccessible to local audiences,” said Konstantia Kontaxis, chair of the Department of Cinematic Arts. “Partnering the mission of the Cosford Cinema with the experience and knowledge Rene has is a unique opportunity not only for our students, but for our extended Miami community.”

Through his relationship with numerous movie studios, Rodriguez is working on events that will educate, but most importantly re-engage students and the community in conversations about cinema. A few years ago, he was instrumental in bringing the stars of Bohemian Rhapsody for a Q&A to the Cosford. It was the film’s second screening, world-wide.

“Rami Malek and the other actors who played the Queen band members attended and that was fantastic. The students loved meeting one of the most successful and diverse actors working in Hollywood today. Even Christian Slater was in the audience,” said Rodriguez.

In his new role, Rodriguez intends to bring comparably engaging programming to the Cosford. One plan he is laying out the framework for is a recurring series tentatively titled “Watching Movies With…,” where prominent members of the South Florida community are invited to select a movie and sit for a Q&A moderated by Rodriguez.

“The idea is taking people who are not necessarily known for movies, but are really well known in the community, and asking them to share a different side of themselves with the audience. It’s about exploring those connections that make us a community,” said Rodriguez.

As a high school student, Rodriguez would frequent the Cosford, then known as the Beaumont Cinema, for its midnight showings of movies such as Apocalypse Now and Pink Flamingos. There was no VHS at that time, leaving the theater as the one place where cinephiles could watch old and new releases in their entirety.

“Today, movie theaters play a really different role. They’re competing with streaming services and you have to give people a reason to get off their couch, get in their car, and go somewhere,” said Rodriguez.

Giving people a reason to attend the cinema again is precisely what Rodriguez is working on for the Cosford. He has spent years writing about movies and cultivating a profound understanding of the movie-going audience. But before becoming the Miami Herald’s film critic, Rodriguez was working at the famed newspaper learning as much as he could from Bill Cosford, the film critic for whom the cinema is named for. In 1994, Cosford passed away after a sudden illness and, a year later, Rodriguez was officially named the Herald’s film critic.

“Bill took me under his wing and became my mentor at the Herald,” Rodriguez remembered. “He even let me audit the grad-level film criticism course he taught at UM.”

In addition to being a renowned film critic, Bill Cosford was also a beloved UM adjunct professor who advocated for upgrades and renovations to the campus cinema long before it bore his name. He began writing for the Miami Herald in the 1970s, becoming its film critic in 1979.

“Cosford’s movie reviews and columns were the reason I started reading the Herald in the first place when I was 12 years old. Meeting him was akin to meeting a rock star,” reminisced Rodriguez.

After Bill Cosford’s passing, his mother, Mary, gave the lead gift to renovate the cinema in his name. In 1995, the renovations were completed and the cinema was officially renamed the Bill Cosford Cinema. In yet another connection between the two famed critics, Rodriguez wrote the story about the cinema’s dedication ceremony for the Miami Herald.

“We had made plans to have lunch three days before he died. His passing was a gut punch. But I always felt he was looking out for me after he passed, and I feel the same way now as I prepare to manage the cinema named after him,” said Rodriguez.

The Cosford’s reopening celebration on Dec. 3 begins with an outdoor reception at 6:30 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. screening of The Hand of God.

“When people hear of the Cosford Cinema, I want them to immediately think that this is going to be a unique experience whether it’s a really interesting panel discussion, an insightful conversation with a community leader, a really cool retrospective, or watching a rare film on the big screen,” said Rodriguez. “I want people to be in store for something that is completely different than what all the other art-house cinemas are doing.”

The Bill Cosford Cinema is a single-screen art-house cinema located on the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami. The venue houses a 70 square-foot screen and projects in 35mm and 4K. The Cosford is dedicated to distinguished film programming and supplemental, educational opportunities ranging from special lecture series, and guest scholars to international film festivals, and engagements with acclaimed filmmakers.