Outdoor Cinema in Mexico

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By Kary Vannice

Growing up in rural America, I have very fond memories of summer nights spent at the drive-in theater. What could be better than life-size drama being played out on a massive silver screen set under a brilliant star-studded sky?

In the early days, each parking spot had these cool, art-deco looking external speakers you would hang over the edge of your window and then roll it up creating your very own “surround sound” experience inside your car. As time went on, they modernized and all you had to do was tune into a local radio station. Then, of course, there were the trips to the concessions stand for tubs of popcorn, liters of soda and gobs of sweets. There was even a kiddy amusement park with a tot-sized roller coaster! A true All-American experience.

I’m sure they exist, but I’ve never seen a drive-in theater in Mexico. Here in Mexico, you are much more likely to stumble across the very popular cine al aire libre (open air cinema) being shown in a local park, beach, or zócalo.

Oftentimes even more enjoyable than a drive-in, the open air cinema scene in Mexico had the added benefit of being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Mexican nightlife. Neighborhood parks come alive at night, especially during the summer months when young and old spend their afternoons and evenings enjoying a deep sense of community in the out of doors. So, why not throw up a silver screen, or even just a sheet and bring entertainment and culture to the masses?

This is actually a very old tradition in Mexico. Back in the early 1900s, immigrants from Eastern Europe, commonly known as Gypsies, started traveling around Mexico setting up traveling outdoor movie theaters. This brought entertainment to rural areas that would otherwise not have had exposure to this type of theater.

Nowadays, with some basic technology and equipment, just about anyone can set up an outdoor theater. And, to the benefit and delight of many in both urban and rural areas, these cines al aire libre are extremely common and mostly free here in Mexico.

If you’d like to be part of the long-standing, rich tradition of outdoor cinema in Mexico, here are some places where you can be a part of the action:

Mexico City has so many outdoor theaters, they have a top 10 list. If you happen to be visiting Mexico City, the five most popular are:

Lanchacinema – This venue mixes movies with paddle boats on the famous Chapultepec Lake. At 8 pm on the first Saturday of every month, you can watch a movie while floating on the water! Moviegoers are allowed in one hour before the screening. At that time your boat will be assigned and you can pedal it out toward the screen, located at the end of the lake.

Foro Gabriel Figueroa – Designed by the famous Mexican architect Michel Rojkind, a more aesthetically pleasing outdoor film screen is hard to find. Located among the installations of the Cineteca Nacional, nearly 600 people can be found lazing on blankets nibbling munchies watching the best of creative and dramatic cinema in the heart of the city.

“Plaza la Aguilita” – While not exactly situated under the stars, this intimate theater (150 people) located in the neighborhood of La Merced, is a dome structure that will keep you dry, if not always warm. Known for showing a lot of Mexican films, documentaries and fictional dramas, they are dedicated to bringing cinematic art to the public for free, every Thursday from August to December.

If you are traveling on the coast of Oaxaca, you can look for outdoor theaters in these cities:

Puerto Escondido – From November to April, every Wednesday night, the Hotel Suites Villasol sponsors a movie night at Bacocho beach. There’s no fee to attend. Snacks and drinks are available for sale.

Huatulco – Colectivo Tilcoatle, a local group focused on the development of artistic and cultural activities in the Huatulco community, organizes Cine Verde y Vivo every Wednesday night at 8:00 pm in the open air. The venue changes among three locations, but you can check their Facebook page to for more information.  (On September 13, the Colectivo is showing Tempestad, directed by one of Mexico’s up-and-coming filmmakers, Tatiana Huezo.)

At different times of the year, a traveling outdoor cinema called EcoCinema visits, among other places, the Oaxacan coast, stopping in small towns like Coyula, Barra de la Cruz, Huatulco, Zipolite, and Mazunte.  Originating in Uruguay, they seek out films that offer “education, culture, and sustainability.”  With just a few team members, they travel in a compact van topped with solar panels. The EcoCinema is committed to providing access to culture and education, and also promoting the care of the environment and renewable energy in children, youth and adults around the world.  You can visit their website to see their calendar of events: https://www.ecocinema.net/.

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