This Traveling Cinema Uses Solar Energy to Bring Movies and Joy to Puerto Rico’s Ravaged Cities

Photo by: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. Courtesy of Puerto Rico

Cine Solar is lighting up the night in Puerto Rico. Two months after Hurricane Maria’s ferocious winds and rainfall devastated the Caribbean island, most of the territory remains without electricity. Pitch black during the evenings, the traveling cinema, run entirely by solar power, screens cartoon films and documentaries to illuminate dark skies and children’s faces.

“We are brightening up the night as well as the future of Borikén,” Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, an Oakland, Calif.-based filmmaker and photographer who co-founded Cine Solar, told Remezcla. “The projectors literally bring light to communities, while we leave seeds of knowledge to children that’ll help them see their future and the future of Puerto Rico.”

The idea came to Jacobs-Fantauzzi in early October. The founder and creator of the multimedia company, he was part of a similar community theater in Cuba. Armed with several solar panels and a projector donated to him through his Fist Up Film Festival, the stateside Boricua, who is also a member of Defend Puerto Rico, traveled to the island and teamed up with local organizers to bring the project to life. Edgardo Larregui Rodriguez, the founder of the arts nonprofit Coco de Oro, coordinates with community leaders from towns throughout Puerto Rico to organize screenings, while artist Lizaimi Rivera Rivera puts the final puzzle pieces together, from promoting Cine Solar to setting up the outdoor theater to serving popcorn to the audience.

In just one month, Cine Solar has traveled throughout the island, from barrios in eastern municipalities like Loíza and San Juan to central towns like Naranjito and Utuado to western areas like Arecibo. Showing screenings about three times a week, the team hopes to make it all over the archipelago, including upcoming trips to Mayaguez, Culebra and Vieques.

Photo by: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. Courtesy of Puerto Rico

With Hurricane Irma striking the northern part of Puerto Rico on September 7, some islanders haven’t been able to enjoy a show or movie in front of their home TV for nearly three months. For the team, Cine Solar provides much-needed entertainment for the people, especially youth, who need an escape from the anguish of a lost relative, a demolished home, a lack of food and water, barren land and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness throughout it all.

“We want to get people out of their homes, to entertain them for a moment, to converse, to spread knowledge. I think that’s something we need now more than ever, and that’s what is going to make us stronger, as a country and community,” Cidra native Rivera said.

While the group’s primary goal is to spread joy among a grieving nation, they also view Cine Solar as a movement for cultural change. They hope that use of solar power could help people to understand that coal, oil and gas are not essential for electricity and allow them to envision a Puerto Rico with a more sustainable and less centralized power system.

“We are not going with those words to the public that this is a revolution, but we go with that consciousness for change and education,” Larregui Rodriguez said.

Photo by: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. Courtesy of Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico is experiencing the worst electricity outage in U.S. history, the situation on the island has long been shoddy. In July, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which had abandoned much of its weak electrical infrastructure, filed for bankruptcy. Yet the rates it charged customers remained steeper than any utility in the U.S., costing three times as much as in Florida because of the fare of shipping oil.

In the Caribbean island, where the sun shines year-round, solar power could be a viable solution. However, a U.S. Energy Information Administration report shows that in 2016 just 2 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from renewable energy, with 47 percent coming from petroleum, 34 percent from natural gas and 17 percent from coal.

“I would describe it as windows or doors that open for the community to find that there is a renaissance, that there are new forms to get electricity, that we don’t need to consume petroleum for electricity, that we don’t need the system of imperialists and capitalists,” the San Juan-based Larregui Rodriguez added.

Photo by: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. Courtesy of Puerto Rico

While Cine Solar is still in its infancy, the group has plans to expand its project. In addition to holding screenings, they want to teach those interested how to run their own solar-powered cinema and raise funds for equipment, like solar generators, solar panels, projectors and portable PA systems. Their hope is to establish teams in the east, west, north, south and central parts of the island that can travel throughout their regions, widening the reach and number of weekly screenings.

For now, Cine Solar will continue to brighten up dusky nights and desolate faces with uplifting films and a vision for a better tomorrow.

“We want them to feel ganas to keep going, to lift themselves up, to think of a new possibility, to change what doesn’t’ function, and, of course, to feel happy, to go home after a good night of laughing and, hopefully, want more,” Rivera said.