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Cine Hidalgo: The Story of One Family's Mission to Bring Films to Their Community

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[Above:Huamuxtitlan, Mexico, the site of Cine Hidalgo today. Image from the trailer to Cine Ambulante, a film by Olivia Heffernan and Ian Volpi]

Film inspires, engages, educates and impacts those who watch, in many ways. Films are an avenue through which people can tell stories — stories representative of their homes and communities. Too often, though, these stories reflective of a certain demographic or region never reach those people or that place. 

Nearly 40 percent of this country's movie theaters are located in four states: California, New York, Florida and Texas, leaving the vast majority of the U.S. without access to communal viewing experiences and therefore reliant on streaming platforms for their content.

There is an intrinsic social value of engaging with art communally. Gathering for and engaging with film is an experience that cannot be replicated and yet when the pandemic hit, the entire film industry had to pivot and reinvent distribution and the film going experience. Premieres happened online, day-and-date release became the norm. Theaters closed and less people were able to watch, together, films that were representative of their communities and homes. 

Now that parts of this world are transitioning, with caution, back to in-person gatherings, the moment is ripe to consider a grassroots democratized form of film distribution—one in which the films you see and spaces available to you to watch them, are not dictated by large corporations or algorithms, but by communities deserving of meaningful films, especially if and when the films are about them. 

Streaming platforms solve access issues and movie theaters solve isolation issues, but how do we get films to reach isolated audiences outside of their homes?

At Kinema, we define social cinema as human-centered distribution. It starts with an individual and extends to their community. It sees community centers, libraries, and museums, as spaces conducive to gathering and experiencing film collectively. 

In a rural town in southwestern Mexico, one family has spent over the last 70 years working to bring film to communities that wouldn't otherwise have access. It started with a mobile cinema and is now a permanent fixture in a rural town called Huamuxtitlan.

Cine Ambulante

Cine Hidalgo began as a mobile cinema in the mid-20th century, taking films from town to town in southwestern Mexico.

At one point, Cine Hidalgo was the center of all cultural activity in the region. Its 400 seats were often not enough to accommodate attendees, leaving many to stand in the back and aisles. Today, in competition with a pandemic and streaming platforms, Cine Hidalgo struggles to get one person through its doors. The family who started Cine Hidalgo laments the loss of this cultural institution.

"When the theater was full, it was amazing. You could feel the warmth and energy. Now, it seems to be fading away which is sad because there is nothing like watching a movie together in the cinema," said Jorge Hidalgo, one of the children of the man who started the mobile cinema in the 40s.

Stories like Cine Hidalgo's remind us of the ubiquitous significance of film and others taking it upon themselves to gather a group and show and share a cinematic project. Does it mean movie theaters are dying? Not at all. But it does allow communities outside the reaches of one to have the same cinematic experiences as those who live in large, metropolitan areas. It does mean film distribution can and should focus on community and connection.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Kinema. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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