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Restored version of Santo contra Cerebro del Mal is to premiere at the Berlinale 2018

By: Viviana García Besne

During a special screening of the 15th Morelia International Film Festival (FICM), Viviana García Besne, director of the Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive, presented the restored version of Santo contra hombres infernales. Recently, García Besne shared with great joy that Santo contra Cerebro del Mal, Santo contra hombres infernales’ sibiling movie, is to premiere restored in the Berlinale’s Forum section, as part as the Forum’ special screenings. Since 1971, this section has sought to highlight an alternative vision of the history of cinema.

The special screenings of Forum 2018 are dedicated to cinema from Africa, documentary and experimental film, “anti-cinema” films and salacious b-movies, and “dirty” films. Christoph Terhechte, director of Forum, was a jury member of the Mexican Feature Film Section at the 15th FICM; at the 13th FICM he was a speaker at Locarno Industry Academy International; and he was invited by the 12th FICM.

Vivana García Besne wrote the following text for the FICM to highlight the importance of El Santo presence at the Berlinale and the work that involved the restoration of both films.

The Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) has been, since the beginning of the Permanencia Voluntaria archive, a very important ally to get support and to promote the work we do to save Mexican popular cinema. During the 15th edition of the festival, Santo contra hombres infernales—the first of the two movies filmed in Cuba during the revolution, in which El Santo made its debut—premiered at a special open-air screening. It was a spectacular screening with a full house, in which the audience was as varied as one could imagine. It was an extraordinary example of the fascination that Mexicans and foreigners still feel for El Santo.

Santo contra El Cerebro del mal en la Berlinale 2018.

Santo contra Cerebro del Mal.

The Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive has a very fragile structure, which was severely damaged by the September 19 earthquake. That’s why we depend on allies to support our work. We are the only independent film archive in Mexico that specializes in the collection and preservation of popular Mexican cinema movies, as well as other unique materials such as posters, documents and promotional items.

The FICM has been a visionary festival. It has had always great respect for the audience of Mexican popular cinema and has supported us by offering us a place in its programme. The screening of Santo contra hombres infernales in the festival was a huge help to achieve something incredible—take El Santo to the Berlinale.

The Restoration Key Pieces

Santo contra hombres infernales and Santo contra Cerebro del Mal are the first restorations of the genre of luchadores made in 4k. It is a great pride to the Permanencia Voluntaria archive to have worked in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science (AMPAS), Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, Peter Conheim of the Cinema Preservation Alliance, and Ross Lipman, former Senior Preservationist at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, who oversaw the many hours of color correction and digital repairs of the project. The result is the impressive digital restorations of Santo contra hombres infernales, which had its world restoration premiere at the 15th FICM; and of Santo contra Cerebro del Mal, which is to premiere on February 22, 2018, in the Berlinale’s Forum section.

This is the first time that a film in which our national hero and science fiction converge, reaches an international festival of such prestige.

Both of these two films, which represent the very first time that the famous El Santo character appeared on the big screen, have not been available in any acceptable quality prints since initial release. In 2017, the Permanencia Voluntaria archive, working in collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn and the Academy Film Archive, set out to completely restore the films from their rapidly-deteriorating original camera negatives. Indeed, the ravages of time and poor storage had taken a toll on the 35mm materials, requiring a great deal of careful repair and cleaning before scanning, at Illuminate Studios and Post-Production in Studio City, California.

The Story Behind Santo contra hombres infernales and Santo contra Cerebro del Mal

Santo contra hombres infernales is the first of two Mexico-Cuba co-productions released—but the second to be completed—after Castro came to power in Cuba. At that moment, the filmmakers were forced to flee the country prematurely, with the unprocessed 35mm negative being smuggled out inside a coffin. As with its companion film, Santo contra El Cerebro del Mal, it wasn’t released to theaters until two years after initial production, and the aborted shooting schedule meant that sequences had to be “lifted” from each film to fill holes in the other, by necessity. This is particularly evident here with Santo contra hombres infernales, where a subplot pops up involving some suspicious characters, a chase scene and a fight, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a shot-for-shot repeat from Santo contra Cerebro del Mal. This duplication also afforded a chance for the film’s producer, Jorgé Garcia Besne, to make a cameo appearance as a gangster, twice.