Mexico is a nation of film lovers. A glance at the country’s yearly box office sales – currently holding strong at fourth highest globally – bears this out in numbers, while the country’s long and venerable film tradition attests to 80 years of world-class film production. In fact, the country values cinema so much that Mexico City’s National Cinematheque recently got a massive overhaul and now occupies a gorgeous, sprawling campus with over a dozen screens, shops, and outdoor event spaces.
But the dream of a national film museum has still eluded the country of 120 million throughout its long relationship with the art – and now thanks to a massive donation from documentary filmmaker Demetrio Bilbatúa, it is about to become a reality.
The donation consists of over 1000 documentary films shot by Bilbatúa and his brother Ángel, both of whom emerged as Mexico’s most important documentarians of the second half of the 20th century. Since the 1950s, the Spanish-born Mexican citizens recorded some of the country’s most important historical events and beloved cultural traditions, and amassed one of the most important filmic archives in Latin America.
But of course, film stock is a very unstable format, and without the proper preservation efforts, such an important aspect of Mexico’s visual memory could be lost. That’s where the newly-announced Museo de Cine Mexicano comes in. In addition to preserving and digitizing this vast archive – which will be made available to students, researchers, and film fans alike – the Museo de Cine will showcase artifacts and memorabilia dating from Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema and even as far back as 1895.
But this important initiative, to be located in the south of Mexico City, is only the first step in a larger complex that museum director Francisco Maciel hopes will be spread throughout the capital and other states of Mexico.