Although I was only lucky enough to visit Mexico City’s Cineteca Nacional a handful of times this year, it’s given me a very good reason to pine for my days in ‘DF’ (as the city is popularly known). Just five weeks back in Blighty is proving quite long enough to get depressed about the thrillers, kiddie films and generic fare hogging the UK’s screens.
The core aim of that Mexican cultural space is to promote outstanding international and national films and to support the development of cinematic culture. For good measure, a spot of film restoration goes on in its vaults.
With its expansive, grassy grounds and airy modern architecture, it’s a pleasure to hang around before your film and perhaps sample the cafes and bookshops. It certainly gives the short-stay tourist a reason other than Frida Kahlo’s house to trek southwards.
Its UK equivalent is the British Film Institute (BFI) on London’s Southbank, a big difference being the cost of tickets. At the Cineteca, to see new or classic films in comfortable auditoriums will generally set you back just 50 pesos, or two pounds. In London, rather more.
Like the Cineteca Nacional, The BFI exists (in part) ‘to promote access to and appreciation of the widest possible range of British and world cinema’. And in preserving our film heritage and showcasing the best in international films, the BFI is justly recognised and respected. But if the ‘British’ in its name is meant to signify a nationwide and not London-centric remit, I’m afraid it’s working well. The fault lies not with the BFI but with cinemas elsewhere in the country which signally fail to follow its lead in curating and nurturing quality films. The ambitions of the small independent cinemas within reach of me in Kent and Sussex are flagging badly. They now largely show the same commercial films as the multiplexes.
Why, I would ask them, can you not give us some choice? Can’t we see the latest Bond and a recent French-language Cannes prize contender? Why show the animated film Storks in virtually every time slot last weekend?
It’s not uncommon for me to see a review in the newspaper that piques my interest, and then scour the listings in the hope that the film is being shown within a 50 mile radius of me. It seldom is. The multiplexes cannot spare just one of their many popcorn-strewn rooms for a film with something different or original to say. Or if they do, it will have a couple of screenings and then vanish. If you miss it, too bad.
If art galleries up and down the country showed exactly the same exhibitions, with their works duplicated, we would think this very strange and surely wrong. Yet with the cinematic art form, beyond the major cities, it’s accepted.
So we should complain more. Good films should not be the preserve of capitalinos.