An iconic Mexico City theater built by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) but that had been abandoned for more than 20 years reopened Friday.
The Linterna Mágica cinema, located in the Magdalena Contreras borough in the south of the city, was once one of the best-known cinemas in the country.
Former Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos (1958–1964) implemented the IMSS-operated cinema — along with 27 others in major cities around the country — in an effort to expand the masses’ access to art and culture at reasonable prices. He also facilitated the construction of housing units, clinics, sports facilities and recreational centers, all under the IMSS banner.
Built at the Independencia public housing project, it was a source of public entertainment until the early 2000s. Efforts to reopen the theater first began in 2019.
The theater is a fondly-remembered part of many Mexico City residents’ childhoods. Twitter users reacted with nostalgia to the news that the cinema was being reopened.
“I lived part of my childhood there,” one user commented. “It once was a great theater of diversions.”
“My grandma used to take me there,” said one user. “May she rest in peace.”
Mexican journalist Roberto Vargas recalled in the publication La Lista in 2022 that his family went there regularly in the 1980s and that it was a big part of his childhood. Among many movies he saw there were “Superman II,” and “E.T.,” he said.
However, some users pointed out the irony of the government spending money on the renovations when IMSS has repeatedly ended up in the news for experiencing shortages of supplies and personnel.
“How great that they have fixed it up,” the commenter wrote. “It’s a shame that they have spent money [on it] before spending it on medicines and supplies in clinics and hospitals.”
The theater’s reopening this week took place in the context of the IMSS’s 80th anniversary. Government officials, artists and actors attended the inauguration, where the 2018 film Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, was screened.
The space will also serve as a cultural center, with a bookstore and different screening rooms dedicated to cult films, short films, independent cinema, children’s movies and new releases. Tickets and food will be available at affordable prices, IMSS officials at the inauguration said.
The National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA) collaborated with the Cineteca Nacional to complete the renovation project, which required an investment of over 16 million pesos (US $848,000).
It is the first reopening as part of a broader relaunch of various cultural venues that were closed over the last two decades due to increased privatization and a more limited vision of social security during previous presidential administrations, said IMSS general director Zoé Robledo.
Robledo emphasized that IMSS is more than medical care, saying “It has been much more throughout its history; it has been theaters, sports facilities, social security centers, workshops, housing units and cinemas.”
“It is very clear that when the IMSS park was sold or when sports facilities began to close or when investment stopped in these types of spaces, it began a perverse cycle of underuse and underinvestment, resulting in their eventual closure,” Robledo said.
Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto emphasized that citizens should exercise their cultural rights and encouraged them to return to movie theaters.
“After the pandemic, people lost the habit of going to the movies,” Frausto said “Opening a movie theater is an act of absolute hope, that we infect people no longer with a virus but with the desire to return to the movies.”
“We are recovering [public spaces] because the great lesson of the pandemic is that health is not only the absence of disease, it is the procurement of a state of personal and collective well-being,” Robledo added.
Progress is being made towards the reopening of 28 other IMSS-owned theaters. They too will provide affordable movie tickets to residents, officials said, although the exact costs have not been confirmed. Showings — which have yet to be announced — will be advertised on IMSS’ Twitter and Instagram accounts.