Meet the Woman Bringing Almodóvar, Del Toro, and Iñárritu’s Early Films to the Big Screen

The Roxie, the oldest continuously operating movie theater in San Francisco, is known for programming off-kilter fare you don’t get anywhere else in the Bay Area. This past month alone they’ve screened Gabriel Mascaro’s masterful Neon Bull, Ethan Hawke’s Chet Baker biopic Born to be Blue, the Salma Hayek-starring fairy tale flick Tale of Tales, and even an Y tu mamá también and Amores perros double feature. This latter screening, part of their “Los Tres Amigos: The Breakthrough Films of Cuarón, Del Toro, and Iñárritu” program is serving as an appetizer of what will be a more serious attempt by the famed San Francisco theater to champion Spanish-language cinema with their newly launched program, RoxCine.

For Isabel Fondevila, Director of Community Programming at the Roxie Theater, making room for Spanish-language cinema an official part of the theater’s mission is very exciting. It’s also been in the works for quite some time. When she began working for the theater back in 2013, she noticed that from an audience member point of view, the theater didn’t show a lot of cinema en español. And so she got to work on changing that. One of the first attempts, as she told Remezcla, was a couple of screenings of the 2012 Paraguayan thriller, 7 cajas (7 Boxes). They performed pretty well and, more importantly, they brought new patrons to the theater.

“I did notice that first weekend when we showed 7 cajas that it was kind of beautiful to see more diversity in the audience — it was great response. I remember talking to people who came to see the movie. And they were like, ‘Yeah, I live a few blocks away but I’ve never been here!’” Since then, they’ve shown Jauja, Güeros, and La jaula de oro, among others, pushing the ever curious Roxie audience to embrace these Latin American flicks while also signaling to the Latino community in the Mission district that there was great cinema to be found right around the corner.

Now, armed with a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, RoxCine is finally making its big bow this month. Taking a page out of the Three Amigos double features (back in April they showed a Pan’s Labyrinth/Espinazo del diablo night so successful they had to schedule an encore screening), Spanish-born Fondevila tapped one of the filmmakers who had always inspired her with his transgressive and unique perspective. That’s how “Early Almodóvar/Los Inicios de Almodóvar” was born.

It’s a move, Fondevila noted, designed to get people to notice what the Roxie is all about. “Our audiences are already kind of used to us bringing them very good stuff that is hard to find and that nobody comes up with. They’re already used to us taking a bit of a risk. This is the whole thing about curation, I guess. It is a challenge to work with non-commercial films always no matter what language they’re in, but I think it’s a matter of people realizing that this is what’s happening at the Roxie.”

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Roxie Theater (@roxie_theater) on

That will be definitely be the case with their upcoming slate which includes Rodrigo Plá’s Un monstruo de mil cabezas (including a screening with a Skype Q&A with the director), Lorenzo Vigas’s Golden Lion winner Desde allá, and González Villaseñor’s Mexican documentary Llévate mis amores.

It’s clear Fondevila has big plans for this new endeavor. “I’m so excited. I can’t even believe it myself that we’re doing this.” What she hopes to do, other than obviously reach out to the Spanish-speaking communities in San Francisco and the Mission in particular, is to get the Roxie audiences excited about what’s going on in Latin America. “It’s just amazing what’s coming out. It’s kind of insane! I look at these festivals and think, ‘Wow! It’s booming!’ — I guess it has been booming for a while, but it’s like, how are we missing out on this?” It’s a question Fondevila hopes RoxCine goers won’t have to ask themselves in the future.