A cinema with 400 seats is the only theater in La Montaña, Guerrero. There is not a single other cinema in 250 kilometers. In addition to being the only way that the people of the area can experience the seventh art, the space also serves as a multipurpose hall.
“The Hidalgo Cinema was established by my father in the 1950s. It was closed from 2000 to 2015, and we reopened it in 2016. On March 23, we stopped working. This meant that at least five people who worked in the cinema have stopped receiving salaries”, says Jorge Luis Hidalgo, director of international and institutional relations for the National Association of Independent Cinemas (ANCI).
The owner of the Hidalgo Cinema also told Tec Review that the crisis has affected his family, in particular one of his brothers.
“My older brother runs the cinema himself in the town of Huamuxtitlan, Guerrero. He simply stopped working and receiving an income. That salary was what supported his family of five children,” says Hidalgo, lamenting the pandemic.
Somehow, the Hidalgo brothers have managed to help the cinema manager with his basic expenses, especially food. In addition to a lack of resources for five months, the small town has been left without its only cinema.
“The population no longer has access to the only source of family entertainment that existed in the entire region. It’s one of the most abandoned and forgotten regions in the history of the entire country,” says the independent cinema representative.
The cinema as a meeting place
When not showing films, the Hidalgo Cinema lends its space to different cultural activities. At times, it has been transformed into a theater, a space for conferences, and even an art gallery. Folkloric ballets and dramas about prominent figures from the town have been shown in this space, so culture can be shared with the new generations.
Some Latin American film clubs concur that small movie theaters are often used as multipurpose spaces, especially in remote locations. One example of this is Cineclub Quimera, in Córdoba, Argentina, which has adapted to the new normal by organizing virtual discussions about cinema.
“La Quimera functions as an exhibition space. We’ve always held cinema appreciation and filmmaking workshops,” says Gabriel Von, representative of the Argentine film club. In times of pandemic, when meeting spaces are closed, the only alternative is to discuss movies using digital media.
As part of the UNAM’s Ingmar Bergman Chair YouTube event, promoters and owners of film clubs from Mexico, Bolivia, and Argentina shared their experiences of the pandemic.
For other film clubs in Mexico, their cinema space is an undeniable intercultural bridge. The Film Club Café, in the State of Mexico, is an example of this.
“It’s in the northern part of Mexico City, in the Naucalpan area of Satélite. There’s a great need for cultural spaces. Although there are many musicians, artists, directors, and actors in this area, it has always lacked spaces,” says Raúl Ojanguren, owner of the Film Club Café.
“We showed films every day before the pandemic. Now we have to stay at home,” says Ojanguren. In the new normal, virtual conversations about cinema happen through the voices of the musicians who Ojanguren invites to the streamed talks.
A safe return to the cinema
So as to get around the ban on physical encounters, the owners of cinema clubs have shared films by Zoom and then discussed them. “I’ve always said that we are the cultural resistance in the desert of Satélite. We’re making progress,” says Ojanguren.
Hidalgo and the National Chamber of the Cinematographic Industry (Canacine) are promoting the return to cinemas. Chains of commercial cinemas have already begun working at 30% capacity.
The Mexican Society for Public Health considers that the distance between seats and rows, the sloping auditorium structure and customers remaining silent can prevent the spread of saliva and infections.
According to information from Canacine, these characteristics, in addition to the fact that attendees are sitting and looking in the same direction, “makes the risk of contagion low.” To stay open, the agency asks that establishments comply with all preventive measures such as the use of face masks, distancing, and hand washing.
“We closed before the authorities required it. It was necessary to stop operating. But now, we must learn to live with the virus and help the economy continue to function,” says Hidalgo.
Hidalgo pointed out that this pandemic is an opportunity to create a support fund for this type of cultural enterprise.
“An emergency fund could be set up to help us deal with the crisis. This (the pandemic) is not a problem caused by the authorities; we understand that perfectly. We seek understanding, so as to be able to cope and to give us an initial economic boost so that we can continue to operate,” he says.