Federico Cuatlacuatl’s Mobile Cinema Makes Art and Culture Accessible to All
Last spring, Federico Cuatlacuatl traded big plans for "small" ones and, in the process, achieved a level of community engagement of which he had previously only dreamed.
Cuatlacuatl, a noted artist and assistant professor of studio art at UVA whose work extends on to focus on issues of social engagement, was on the verge of leading the University's first-ever study abroad program to Mexico as part of his planned 2020 summer course "Pragmatics of Cinema Community Engagement." But after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all international travel, he quickly shifted his focus. "It forced me to think that if we can't travel abroad with our students, can we do something here that would still be the same idea of sharing independent films promoting Black and Indigenous filmmakers and involving both our students and community members here in Charlottesville?"
The Mexico native and DACA recipient needed to look no further than his own native land for inspiration. "I was looking at a lot of the culture of street vendors, street artists, and this culture that is so embedded into the communities there, and I love that," he said. This way, he realized, everything can be mobile and more accessible for the very communities he is trying to reach. "It is a way of democratizing film and access to contemporary film that is coming out, and at the same time promoting the work of artists and filmmakers whose work people might never normally be exposed to."
Rasquache Mobile Cinema borrows its name from a residency Cuatlacuatl established in his hometown in 2016, geared toward sharing art, culture, and inspiration on both sides of the border. The term "Rasquache" references a significant Chicano artist movement of the 1960s. "The term was originally used to reference somebody of a lower class, somebody who is uneducated. It was used to discriminate, especially against Indigenous communities. So this movement takes that term and gives it a new meaning, a sense of agency and empowerment. They were celebrating the fact that these people, with very little means, were embracing a lifestyle and a way of thinking and making the most with the least. It's about using what is in one's proximity and making the most of it."
Cuatlacuatl is applying this same thinking to the mobile cinema project. "We can basically just take a tricycle and the basic equipment we need to show these films and do some really nice community events. Thus far, there have been five screenings, he said, all in some way featuring a component of trans-borderness. "It's really about trying to blur that border by focusing on artists from both sides of the border at the same time. I have been trying to curate films that talk about Blackness and Indigeneity and what is happening on both sides of the border." One example he noted was showcasing filmmaker Ebony Bailey, an artist who is "beautifully blurring lines" by talking about Blackness in Mexico City and the United States.
The events have drawn "beautiful" turnouts, all held in public spaces and presented free of charge. Cuatlacuatl has partnered with local community groups, including The Bridge PAI and Visible Records Gallery, and is interested in continuing to build out additional partnerships that will bring the events to people all across the Charlottesville community.
This project is supported by The Religion, Race & Democracy Lab, which has been working with Cuatlacuatl since this project's inception. With their support, he was able to apply for and receive an Arts Enhancement Grant from UVA Arts. He is currently exploring additional funding avenues to further build out programming every year and bring more students into essential roles in the curatorial, promotional, and community-building processes.