Mexican Film Archive Struck by Major Earthquake

The major earthquake that struck Mexico City and surrounding areas on 19 September 2017 caused the loss of at least 319 lives, and destroyed many buildings including thousands of homes. Among structures seriously damaged by the tremor was Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive, the only independent film archive in Mexico specializing in the collection and preservation of popular films, which is located in Tepoztlán, the epicenter of the quake, an hour from the capital.

earthquake4In messages to colleagues around the world, the archive’s director, Viviana Garcia Besné, has reported that the event extensively damaged the facility, and that much of the collection needs to be salvaged and repaired.

She is asking for financial and technical help, to get back up and running. The archive needs basic materials, such as 35mm and 16mm film cans, as well as archival boxes for papers and photographs, she says. Garcia Besné is also hoping that American colleagues can take and clean films that have been were dirtied by falling onto the ground.

The Archive’s collection focuses on the works of the Calderón/García Besné family, pioneers in such popular-film genres as Rumberas, Luchadores (wrestling), and Ficheras (showgirl) movies. The archive also houses collections of rare posters, documents, and promotional items.

Part of the Archive’s collection is stored in Mexico City, but Garcia Besné is uncertain what has become of films there.

She said in a letter to colleagues that, at the archive’s main facility in Tepoztlán, a small town, “our buildings are heavily damaged.” The earthquake destroyed the roof of the archive, and tipped many films off their racks, so that they will need to be rehoused and cleaned.

While an engineer confirmed that the archive can be safely rebuilt, “we lack the money, means, and manpower to repair the extensive damage wrought by the earthquake,” she said.

As Paul Julian Smith of Film Quarterly has noted, Tepoztlán is a popular tourist center thanks to its Aztec temple and natural scenery, and film buffs may know it as the setting for Post Tenebras Lux, which won Carlos Reygadas the best-director award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.


Among films held at Permanencia Voluntaria is a 16mm print of the sex comedy Mujeres encantadoras (Charming Women, 1958).


Local officials have ordered archive staff not to enter their facility’s badly damaged second floor, until repairs begin. Not being able to access that part of the archive “is especially worrying,” she said, “because we are entering the rainy season, and with every passing day, we will be at risk of extensive water damage if we do not work to repair this area quickly.”

Garcia Besné said that a major water line was damaged at the facility, and that the archive’s facility was at risk of being flooded because 80 percent of the archive’s storage racks were damaged in the quake. The immediate danger of water damage to the many films tipped off shelves was averted by moving the reels to safety, but structural damage remains extensive, and much rebuilding will be necessary.

She is asking for financial assistance, to enable archive staff to preserve the collection: “These antique film reels are irreplaceable and priceless.”

The quake destroyed the archive’s community movie theater, the Baticine, which has showcased the works of local filmmakers and popular films. “We have months of work ahead of us to fix this beloved community space,” Garcia Besné said, “but our priority is the restoration of the archive.”

She said “the scope of this project is beyond our means and we cannot do it alone. We will be beyond grateful for any assistance you can offer in regards to the preservation of our Archive.”

The institution’s holdings, noted Paul Julian Smith of Film Quarterly, are “the kind of popular titles that the major public archives in the capital, the Cineteca and Filmoteca, are unlikely to cover adequately.” It has been the labor of love of its director, he added: it was her Calderón/García Besné family, beginning in the 1940s, that “produced pictures once dismissed as ‘the worst in Mexico,’ but now celebrated as an indispensable cultural expression of the country.”

Her film, Perdida (Lost, 2012) documented her quest to restore that film heritage. Smith recently extensively described some of that legacy in Film Quarterly.

Two Gofundme accounts have been set up, to accept donations for repairs to the archive, here, and here.



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