The Alamar Cinema

Irina Echarry
Irina Echarry

The magic of a dark theater is unbeatable. Even though we now have computers, DVDs and videos, nothing compares to the giant screen.

In Alamar, the large suburb where I live, 13 kilometers from Havana, there is a theater called XI Festival. It was so named because it was inaugurated in 1978 when the XI World Festival of Youth and Students took place in Cuba.

Several public works were built at that time, and since the construction was intense and rushed, errors were made.

The theater was built with its back to the main avenue: Avenida de los Cocos. To resolve the problem, a boulevard was built in front of the theater where the entrance is. Local residents rarely use this boulevard as we are accustomed to the theater turning its back on us. That’s the least of it.

The XI Festival began as a premier theater on par with the Yara or the Riviera. Every Thursday a new movie opened there. On Tuesdays at 9 pm. they showed B films that didn’t make it to other screens. I saw a lot of really good ones there.

Sometimes four of us would show up, but when there were only three of us the usher would wait a while and, if nobody else came, he would cancel the film. The theater also served as a sort of bohemian style gathering spot for poets and painters with poetry readings and book presentations that we young people really appreciated.

Now the Alamar Theater has not only turned its back on the street, it has turned its back on the world. Nothing is shown there now, no B movies, its not even part of the Havana Film Festival. There are no other cultural activities there either. It is a spacious, beautiful and comfortable theater. I don’t know what happened. I only know that I miss the magic of entering the dark theater and traveling to unknown lands, seated in a red orchestra seat, near my home.

One thought on “The Alamar Cinema

  • There’s something magic about sharing a film in a darkened auditoria with others. Also, some films just meant to be seen on the large screen of a theatre, rather than the shurnken panatella of a tele. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s I was a constant habitue of cinemas and film societies: in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, and the Cinematheque in Coral Gables (Miami). After these films, we’d often discuss them at a nearby cafe.
    From what you describe, in recent years attendance at the Alamar Theatre has fallen significantly. What is the competition drawing people to other venues?
    Perhaps at a nearby library, social club or other smaller cultural space you could start a film society, even if only for watching videos on a television. Just around the corner from my friend’s house in La Lisa there is such a venue, a neighborhood video club. I guess the only certainty about life is change. Still, film is a very democratic cultural institution, and the demise of the collective sharing of this experience is a tragedy; yet another example of our atomization and alienation. On the other hand, such sharing can still happen, even if only in a very truncated form, as happened one madrugada this past spring. At a casa particular where I was staying, a stone’s throw from the Capitolio, the owner and I both had insomnia, so on TV we watched an old Mexican potboiler from the 1940’s. We both had to laugh at the absurd twists and baroque turns in its improbable plot, and I am glad I had the opportunity to share this experience with her.

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