The story behind the artifact: La guia de Santini (1934)

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The value of film trade publications as historical artifacts cannot be disregarded. They provide film historians with relevant data and images that are not to be found in other sources. In many cases, the hints a sharp researcher gets in reading these publications lead him or her to important findings. Moreover, the kind of stock, the binding, the number of pages, and the number of copies printed give us additional information about the publishers and the film industry in itself.

Film trade publications are different from magazines for movie aficionados, since they are intended for professionals in this industry.

In Mexico, film trade journals began to appear in 1930, with the inception of sound cinema. The first periodical of this kind was “Mundo Cinematográfico”, which began to run in March, 1930 and went on business for about a decade.  This monthly was addressed to film operators, and covered production, distribution, exhibition, and technical news.

There was only one earlier trade publication in Mexico, founded in 1925, named “El Eco Cinematografista”, a bulletin released by and for the film exhibition workers’ guild.

The artifact we show in this page is the first annual film trade book ever published in Mexico: “La primera guía cinematográfica mexicana para el año 1934”. It was released by ‘Santini Publicista’; that is, Miguel Santini Ávila, born in Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1904. He was specialized in film propaganda, and owned the ‘Agencia de Publicidad Santini’, located at 35 Uruguay, Ste. 606, in Mexico City.

Santini offered a variety of services to film producers and distributors: casting, pencil sketching “to define specific physical types for screenplays”; preparation of press kits “in all languages”, in addition to the traditional printed propaganda. An ad for the agency said they were able “to invent any new means of film publicity”.

The agency also offered producers and directors “new prints of silent films”, “of the Mexican Revolution, from don Porfirio[1] times” in which they would be able to see the actual ambiance, personages, and costumes of that era, so the characters and settings in their movies could be more accurate.

Santini and a Sr. Sierra ran also “Little S. S. Studios”, located at 48 Ayuntamiento. According to its ad, it was a fine stage for taking short scenes and for castings. Lights, cameras, and sound equipment were available at the premises.

“La primera guía cinematográfica” entered into production on January 15, and was finished on March 30, 1934, at Impresores del Bosque, as the colophon reads.

Two editions were released: hardcover and paperback. Several hardcover copies have survived, while paperback ones are extremely rare. Santini made clear that the guide would have a limited distribution and that “a small extra run” was made for the people featured in the volume. Prices were $8.00 for the hardcover edition, and $3.00 for the other.[2] Additionally, the clichés used for the volume were for sale. Companies and people appearing in the guide could buy them for 50% of their actual cost.

The hardcover edition is a lavish 160-page volume, printed on fine coated paper with black cloth covers.  It is beautifully designed in the Art Deco style, and is fully illustrated.

There are portraits of most of the people featured in the volume, as well as pictures of Jorge Stahl’s Estudios México Films and other facilities. Photographers are acknowledged: Gabriel Figueroa, brothers Raúl and Gilberto Martínez Solares; César, Luis Márquez, and Jiménez.

When this guide was published, it was intended as the first issue of a yearly book, but Santini would not pursue the project.

In 1934, Santini stated he had also released the “Primer álbum de partes y extras para el cine mexicano” (a directory of support actors and extras available for Mexican movies), but it seems such album never saw the light of day.

The contents of “La primera guía cinematográfica mexicana para 1934” included data about studios and laboratories; people in the artistic and technical fields, as well as film distributors and publicists; casting agencies, and the like. In addition, there were two interesting articles about the condition and perspectives of the national film industry; one was written by Jorge Pezet, and the other by Gabriel Soria. A statistical section was prepared by Miguel Ruiz.

There are several disclaimers related to the accuracy of contents in the volume. For instance, the editor affirmed that all people and companies fully devoted to Mexican film “at the beginning of 1934” were present in the book. Absent were the people that Santini was not able to get in touch with, and the ones “admitting they did not intend to make a career in cinema”. It is also stated that all information regarding people and companies was given by them to the editor.

“La primera guía cinematográfica mexicana” counted on noted collaborators. Jorge Stahl, who wrote the dedication, was a film pioneer with long experience in cinematography, production, and exhibition. He also was the owner of the ‘México Films’ studios.

Miguel Ruiz Moncada compiled the statistics section for the guide. Ruiz was also a film pioneer, with knowledge of cinematography, screenplay writing, producing, directing and acting. Moreover, he had vast experience as a journalist and documentarist, mainly during the Mexican Revolution. His section contains production and gross box-office figures for 18 of the 20 Mexican optical-sound films already in exploitation at the beginning of 1934. As Ruiz honestly stated, those figures should be taken as “illustrative”, not as the accurate fiscal numbers.

An editorial about the condition and perspectives of the national film industry was written by Jorge Pezet. He was a young, well respected producer that came from a Peruvian family of high-ranking politicians and diplomats. This editorial had the purpose of promoting investment in film production in Mexico.

Gabriel Soria, an appreciated Mexican journalist and filmmaker, wrote an instructive article about the people involved in the national film industry. Soria was just 26 years old, and was just finished directing his opera prima, Chucho el roto.

Entries for each artist or technician included as much information as the person herself provided the editor with. Texts are generally short, except for sound engineer José B. Carles and actor/producer Ramón Pereda, who sent page-long biographies.

Enrique Solís, who later became one of the most influential men in the industry[3], had a page reserved for him, but he did not supply any text or image.

Ads in the volume are relevant, too. In some cases, advertisements are the only source to learn some details about companies that disappeared a long time ago. That is the case, for example, of “Beleho”, a modular film set rental service. Those sets were created by Fernando A. Rivero, a painter, art director, and actor.

Undoubtedly, the Guía Santini is an indispensable source to any researcher interested in the state of the Mexican film industry in the early 1930s.

Additional sources:

González Casanova, Manuel y Virginia Medina Ávila, compiladores, Escritores del cine mexicano sonoro. México, D.F.: UNAM, 2003. CD. Also available at:

National Archives and Records Administration, Lists of passengers 1917-1973.

National Archives and Records Administration, Border Crossings from Mexico 1895-1957.

[1] Gral. Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico for nine periods, not all consecutive; Mexican Revolution started to oust him from office.

[2] Prices in Mexican pesos. In 1934, the peso had a value of 3.6/US dollar.

[3] Enrique Solís became a powerful union leader that also had entrepreneurial activities in the film industry, what led to serious conflicts. Sometimes he was called a dictator, a czar, a magnate.