The devastating economic crisis in Venezuela has left residents struggling to afford food and medicine. Luxuries like going to the movies has, for many, become unthinkable.

But in the capital of Caracas, those looking for a brief respite from the dire conditions in the country have turned to free outdoor movie screenings hosted by Gran Cine, a group created in 1996 by film industry veterans who wanted to make cinema more accessible to the public.

The outdoor series started more than a decade ago with around 150 screenings a year and an audience of around 300 people, said president Fernando Rotundo. But the economic downturn forced the group to halve the number of films in 2018. Frequent power outages and clashes in the streets also mean that people are often unwilling to sit in the dark to watch a movie, and screenings are now limited to around a dozen locations in the capital, including Bolivar Square.

"Exposure to cinema helps build critical thinkers”

In 2015, the group also launched "Fábrica de Cine", a series of film and audiovisual workshops at high schools in the Baruta municipality that help introduce teenagers to the industry.

Rotundo said exposure to culture was essential despite the current crisis.

Culture might seem secondary considering the state that our country is in. But we think that it is incredibly important in creating critical thinkers who are able to think for themselves. Culture is a powerful vehicle for social and societal change.

An outdoor screening organised by Gran Cine.

Organisers set up the inflatable screen.

In the past few years, many of Venezuela’s movie theatres have been shutting their doors. We used to work with eight theaters but six of them are closed now. Some festivals have been shut down as well.

A "Fábrica de Cine" film workshop.

A "Fábrica de Cine" film workshop.

The number of Venezuelan films being produced has also drastically decreased. For the past ten years, there were at least 12 films produced every year through the Centro Nacional Autónomo de Cinematografía (CNAC), the film governing body. In 2014, there were 30 films produced. But in 2018, I don’t think any films were produced through CNAC, whose money comes largely from ticket sales. In 2018, there were only 13 million tickets sold, a massive drop from the 30 million sold in 2015. This year, the number could drop to 10 million.

Meanwhile, movie tickets cost between 50 cents and a dollar [Editor’s note: around 0.50 and 0.90 euro], which is really expensive for most Venezuelans, given that minimum wage is 40,000 bolivars [Editor’s note: around 6 euros]. People don't have money for entertainment anymore.

This article was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).