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Mexico’s Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive Damaged in Earthquake: ‘These Antique Film Reels Are Irreplaceable’

Viviana Garcia Besne, the archive's director, has penned a letter asking for help.

Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive

The earthquake that struck Mexico on Tuesday affected every aspect of life in Mexico City and the surrounding area. That includes the Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive, whose director has shared a letter detailing the damage done to one of Mexico’s most important cinematic institutions; in addition to movies, Permanencia Voluntaria houses posters, documents, and promotional materials that can’t be found anywhere else.

“We are a small town, our buildings are heavily damaged, and we lack the money, means, and manpower to repair the extensive damage wrought by the earthquake,” writes Viviana Garcia Besne, noting that local authorities have barred the archive’s employees from accessing the second floor and surveying the full extent of the damage. Baticine, the community movie theater managed by the archive, has also been destroyed.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

I am writing on behalf of the PERMANENCIA VOLUNTARIA FILM ARCHIVE — the only independent film archive in Mexico specializing in the collection and preservation of popular films. Our collection focuses on the works of the Calderón and García Besné family, pioneers in important film genres such as the Rumberas, Luchadores and Ficheras. Our archive also houses other unique materials that cannot be found anywhere else, including movie posters, documents and promotional items.

As you know, on September 19 a terrible 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City, Puebla, and Tepoztlán (Tepoztlán, home of the archive, was right on the epicenter.) We are a small town, our buildings are heavily damaged, and we lack the money, means, and manpower to repair the extensive damage wrought by the earthquake.

Today an engineer confirmed that the space where the archive is located and its microcinema, our BATICINE, are safe to rebuild. By order of the local government we cannot access the second floor of the archive, as a window and part of a wall are completely damaged. It will be inaccessible until we bring an engineer and a construction team to start rebuilding. To date we are unable to take photos and assess the damage to the second floor. This is especially worrying 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. We need emergency assistance.

Another big concern is that a major water line has been compromised at this location. The pipe is not currently leaking as Tepotzlán has no running water, but when the city manages to resume water services our archive will flood. We cannot wait for the government to assist us in preventing water damage, and we currently do not have the resources to fix the crack. This is particularly alarming as 80% of our storage racks were damaged in the earthquake, and most of our artifacts are littered on the ground at extreme risk. With the proper assistance we will be able to move the films and purchase the necessary hardware and protective materials to keep them safe. We cannot underestimate the severity of this situation. As you know, these antique film reels are irreplaceable and priceless, and with every passing moment we are at risk of losing everything.

Our Baticine, the community movie theater that we manage which showcases the works of local filmmakers and popular films for all audiences, has also been destroyed. We have months of work ahead of us to fix this beloved community space, but our priority is the restoration of the archive. The devastating earthquake not only destroyed the roof of the archive, but it damaged the films, which will need additional longer term assistance to be rehoused and cleaned, and has undone most of our cataloguing and organizational efforts. 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.

Warm regards,

Viviana Garcia Besne
Director, Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive

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