The 1930-1950s Golden Age of Mexican Cinema is having a moment in San Antonio. First, the San Antonio Philharmonic performed music from those movies in Plaza Guadalupe for its April 21-22 pops concerts.
Next, the Main Plaza Conservancy will show a select film from that period of Mexican cinema at 8 p.m. every Monday evening during May with the help of Slab Cinema’s portable outdoor screen.
The first film, María Candelaria (1943), screens at Main Plaza Monday, May 1, at 8 p.m., followed by Los Olvidados (1950) on May 8, Nazarín (1959) on May 15, Enamorada (1946) on May 22, and Macario (1960) on May 29. All movies will be screened with English subtitles.
The movies are free and open to the public, with the added treat of free popcorn from the Plaza Cafe.
Conservancy Executive Director Molly Hall-Villarreal pointed out that San Antonians would have gone to see these films at the nearby Alameda and Aztec theaters during their heyday, and that bringing them back downtown will honor that facet of local history.
“We want to highlight this amazing period and cinema that maybe some locals and visitors alike don’t really know that well,” Hall-Villarreal said. “It’s a really deep part of San Antonio that we don’t get to see very much anymore.”
The idea came from board member Gini Garcia, who recalled that her parents met on a downtown plaza in Monterrey, Mexico, when such gathering spots were the center of city social life. Garcia said she wanted to activate the plaza with authentic San Antonio experiences.
She approached Nathan Cone, vice president of cultural and community engagement for Texas Public Radio — and a noted cinema buff — who suggested films and made a connection with Televisa, the Mexican media company that holds the rights to many of the movies.
While directors Emilio Fernández (María Candelaria, Enamorada) and Roberto Gavaldón (Macario) might be familiar to film buffs, director Luis Buñuel (Los Olvidados, Nazarín) achieved wide fame in part because of his association with Surrealists including Salvador Dalí.
Los Olvidados won Buñuel the top director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951, helping to bring wide recognition to mid-century Mexican cinema.
Though conservancy members said they are less familiar with the films, their parents routinely enjoyed going out on the town to see cinematic portrayals of their culture.
“A lot of people have special memories of being on the plaza,” said board member Lorie Campos. “Our mission is to promote multigenerational gatherings. A lot of that [prior] generation went to the movies downtown, and bringing it back in some form is what we’re trying to do.”
Though some of the films deal with complex topics like the Mexican Revolution and poverty, all are suitable for family viewing, Conservancy Program Manager Kaitlyn Barber said.