Cinema of Mexico

The history of Mexican cinema goes back to the ending of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, when several enthusiasts of the new medium documented historical events – most particularly the Mexican Revolution – and produced some movies that have only recently been rediscovered. During the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, Mexico all but dominated the Latin American film industry.

Cinema of Mexico
Open air screening at the Guadalajara International Film Festival
No. of screens5,303 (2012)[1]
  Per capita4.6 per 100,000 (2012)[1]
Main distributorsParamount Int'L 20.3%
Warner Bros Int'L 16.2%
Fox (Disney) Int'L 14.6%[2]
Produced feature films (2011)[3]
Fictional51 (69.9%)
Animated6 (8.2%)
Documentary16 (21.9%)
Number of admissions (2012)[4]
  Per capita2.0
National films10,900,000 (4.79%)
Gross box office (2012)[4]
Total$779 million
National films$36 million (4.62%)

The Guadalajara International Film Festival is the most prestigious Latin American film festival and is held annually In Guadalajara, Mexico. Mexico has twice won the highest honor at the Cannes Film Festival, having won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film for Maria Candelaria in 1946 and the Palme d'Or in 1961 for Viridiana, more than any other Latin American nation.

Mexico City is the fourth largest film and television production center in North America, as well as the largest in Latin America.

in 2019, Roma became the first Mexican film and third Latin American film winning the Oscar for best foreign language film. Roma also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards.

Emilio "El Indio" Fernández was the model for the Academy Award of Merit, more popularly known as the Oscar statuette. According to the legend, in 1928 MGM's art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Motion Picture Academy members, was tasked with creating the Academy Award trophy. In need of a model for his statuette, Gibbons was introduced by his future wife, actress Dolores del Río, to Fernández. Reportedly, Fernández had to be persuaded to pose nude for what is today known as the "Oscar".[5][6]

Silent films (1896–1929)

The first "moving picture", according to sources by film historian Jim Mora, was viewed in 1895 using Thomas Edison's kinetoscope. A year later, the cinematographe projector was introduced by Auguste Lumière. Mexico's first queues appeared in cinemas in the capital to see international one-minute films such as The Card Players, Arrival of a Train, and The Magic Hat.[7] The "silent film" industry in Mexico produced several movies; however, many of the films up to the 1920s have been lost and were not well documented. Moreover, the cinematograph arrived to Mexico seven months after its first projection in France, brought in by Claude Ferdinand Bon Bernard and Gabriel Veyre (the latter had been contracted by the Lumierè brothers to spread the cinematograph across México, Venezuela, the Guaianas and the Antilles)[8].

Film in México continued to expand; on august 6th, 1896, president Porfirio Díaz invited Bon Bernard and Veyre to his residence in Chapultepec, and eight days later, the first projection for the press was made in what is now Madero Street . This projection included films by the Lumierè brothers such as L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat, and on august 15th, a projection was made for the general public.[9]

President Porfirio Díaz recognized the importance of cinema and starred in many films such as El general Díaz acompañado de sus ministros, El general Díaz en desfile de coches and El general Dïaz recorriendo el Zócalo.[10] In 1906, he starred in La entrevista de los presidentes Díaz-Taft, one of the first filmed reportages produced in Mexico. It was filmed by the Alva brothers.[11] However, the first fiction film to be created in Mexico was based on a recreation of the duel between two deputies, called Duelo a pistola en el bosque de Chapultepec.

Mexican cinema continued to spread across the country, thanks in part to business men such as Guillermo Becerril, Carlos Mongrand and Salvador Toscano.[12] The origins of early Mexican filmmaking is generally associated with Salvador Toscano Barragán, who introduced the filmed reportage. In 1898 Toscano made the country's first film with a plot, titled Don Juan Tenorio. During the Mexican Revolution, Toscano recorded several clips of the battles, which would become a full-length documentary in 1950 title Memories of a Mexican, assembled by his daughter. Other short films were either created or influenced from French film-makers.

By 1906, 16 movie salons opened their doors to accommodate the pularity of cinema in Mexico City. Carpas, or tent shows, were popular beginning in 1911 where lower-class citizens would perform picaresque humor and theatrical plays, a place for training for aspiring actors. Politically affiliated films appearing in 1908, often deemed propagandistic by today's terms. Significant battles were filmed and broadcast during the revolution which fueled Mexicans' excitement in cinema.[13] In addition, the first intents to formalize the mexican cinematic industry were made between 1905 and 1906, with the creation of the first mexican distributing companies. Some of the most important companies were Empresa Cinematográfica Mexicana, American Amusement Company, Compañía Explotadora de Cinematógrafos and Unión Cinematográfica.[14]

The popularity that cinema had experienced in the early 20th century continued to grow and by 1911 fourteen movie houses were erected over and above those of just the year prior. It was during this period that the documentary techniques were mastered as is evident in the Alva brother's production entitled Revolución orozquista (1912). The film was shot in the camps of the rebel and federal forces during the battle between General Huerta and the rebel leader Pascual Orozco.

The rise of cinema, however, began declining due to the lack of distributers and the difficulty to make new material. This, summed to the dangers that the inflammability of tape presented, resulted in the closing of many of the Carpas that had been set up. This resulted in the cinematic indistry being reduced to small companies, with Carlos Mongrand standing out because of films such as Desfiles de tropas en San Luis Potosí, Carnaval de Mérida and Aventuras del sexteto Uranga.[15]

Despite the relative advancement of cinema during this period, the moralistic and paternalist ideology of Madero led to his campaign to save the lower classes from immorality through censorship. Hence, in late September and early October 1911, city council members appointed additional movie house inspectors, whose wages would be paid by the exhibitioners. Furthermore, the head of the Entertainment Commission, proposed the implementation of censorship; however, Victoriano Huerta's coup d'état in February 1913 prevented the move to legislate censorship.

Although Huerta's reign was brief, the cinema experienced significant changes within this period such as the further establishment of censorship and a shift away from documentary films to entertainment films. The Alva brothers' production of Aniversario del fallecimineto de la suegra de Enhart is indicative of the change in the aim of Mexican cinematographers. The Alva brothers produced films such as La entrada de Madero a la capital with the use of Indalecio Noriega Colombres' inventions, which allowed for a phonograph to be synchronized with the images projected.[16]

In regards to censorship, the Huerta government imposed a moral and political decree of censorship in approximately June 1913. This decree was imposed a few days after convencionista soldiers shot at the screen during a viewing of El aguila y la serpiente. The decree stated that films that showed the following were prohibited: "views representing crimes, if they do not include punishment of the guilty parties, views which directly or indirectly insult an authority or person, morality or good manners, provoke a crime or offence, or in any way disturb the public order (Mora 70)."

As a result of the limitations placed on film content as well as the radicalization of the parties involved in the armed conflicts, cameramen and producers began to display their opinion through the films they produced. For instance, favoritism towards the Zapatistas was illustrated in the film Sangre Hermana (Sister Blood, 1914). Due to the sensational content of this film, it is evident that the producers had no interest in displaying the events in such a way that the audience could come to their own conclusions.

The cinematic productions of this period were reflective of the Italians style film d'art, which were fiction-based melodramas. The film La Luz (The Light, Ezequiel Carrasco, 1917, starring Emma Padilla) was the first film that attempted to adopt this style, even though it was viewed as a plagiarism of Piero Fosco's Il Fuoco. Paranaguá attributes the influence that the Italian had on the Mexican cinema with the similarities between the situations of both countries. Both countries were in a state of chaos and disorder – there was a war in Italy and a revolution in Mexico (Paranaguá 70). Once again censorship was re-established on October 1, 1919. Films which illustrated acts of immortality or induced sympathy for the criminal were prohibited.

In 1917, the former vaudeville star Mimí Derba, founded the Azteca Studios which realized notable films between 1917 and 1923. The most successful of these films was En defensa Propia (1921).

Government budget had to be trimmed as a result of the rebellion and cinematographic departments of the Ministry of Education and Agriculture were cut. By 1924, narrative films were at an all-time low since 1917.

During the 1920s very few movies were produced, given the political climate that was still very unsettled and the resurgence of the American film industry.

Notable Mexican movie stars moved to the United States. Stars like Ramón Novarro, Dolores del Río and Lupe Vélez, became principal stars of notable Hollywood films in the 1920s and 1930s. Other Mexican stars appeared in numerous movies which were merely Spanish-language versions of Hollywood movies.

In 1994, the Mexican magazine Somos published a list of "The 100 best movies of the cinema of Mexico" in its 100th edition. The oldest film selected was" "El automóvil gris" (The Grey Car). To make the selection, the magazine invited 25 specialists in Mexican cinematography, among which critics stand out Jorge Ayala Blanco, Nelson Carro and Tomás Pérez Turrent, the historians Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro and Gustavo García Gutiérrez. The top twelve films in order chosen from the best and on are Let's Go with Pancho Villa, Los Olvidados, Godfather Mendoza, Aventurera, A Family Like Many Others, Nazarín, El, The Woman of the Port, The Place Without Limits, Here's the Point, Champion Without a Crown, and Enamorada.

The Golden Age (1930–1960)

In the 1930s, once peace and a degree of political stability were achieved, the film industry took off in Mexico and several movies still experimenting with the new medium were made. Hollywood's attempt at creating Spanish language films for Latin America failed mainly due to the combination of Hispanic actors from different ethnicities exhibiting various accents unfamiliar to the Mexican people. Early Mexican cinematographers were influenced and encouraged by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's visit to the country in 1930.[17]

In 1931 the first Mexican talkie movie, an adaptation of the Federico Gamboa's novel Santa, directed by Antonio Moreno and starred by the Mexican-Hollywood star Lupita Tovar, was realized.[18] Until Sergei Eisenstein's ¡Que viva México! (1931), Mexican audiences were exposed to popular melodramas, crude comedies, as well as Spanish-language versions of Hollywood movies.

Eisenstein's visit to Mexico inspired directors like Emilio Fernández and cameraman Gabriel Figueroa, and the number of Mexican-made films increased and improved. During the 1930s the Mexican film industry achieved considerable success with movies like La Mujer del Puerto (1934), Fred Zinnemann's Redes (1934), Janitzio (1934), Dos Monjes (1934), Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936), Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1936) from Fernando de Fuentes' Revolution Trilogy and La Zandunga.

During the 1940s the full potential of the industry developed. Actors and directors became popular icons and even figures with political influence on diverse spheres of Mexican life. The industry received a boost as a consequence of Hollywood redirecting its efforts towards propagandistic films and European countries focusing on World War II, which left an open field for other industries.

Mexico dominated the film market in Latin America for most of the 1940s without competition from the United States film industry. During World War II movie production in Mexico tripled. The fact that Argentina and Spain had fascist governments made the Mexican movie industry the world's largest producer of Spanish-language films in the 1940. Although the Mexican government was reactionary, it encouraged the production of films that would help articulate a true Mexican identity, in contrast to the view often seen in Hollywood movies.

The Golden Age of Mexican cinema took place during the 1940s and beyond. The most prominent actor during this period was Mario Moreno, better known as Cantinflas. The film Ahí está el detalle in 1940 made Cantinflas a household name and he became known as the "Mexican Charlie Chaplin" . His films were ubiquitous in Spain and Latin America and influenced many contemporary actors. Not until the appearance of "Tin-Tan" in the late 1940s did his popularity wane.[19]

Mexican actresses also were a focus in Mexican cinema. Sara García was the "grandmother of Mexico". Her career began with silent films in 1910, moved to theatre, and ultimately the film that made her famous, No basta ser madre (It's Not Enough to be a Mother) in 1937. Dolores del Río, another dramatic actress, became well known after her Hollywood career in the 1930s and for her roles in a couple of films directed by Emilio Fernández.[20]

María Félix (well known as "La Doña", was a big star after her role in the movie Doña Bárbara in 1943. She gained a higher popularity in European countries.

In 1943, the Mexican industry produced seventy films, the most for a Spanish speaking country. Two notable films released in 1943 by director Emilio Fernández were Flor silvestre (1942) and María Candelaria (1944), both films starring prestigious Hollywood actress Dolores del Río. The movies were triumphs for the director and for internationally acclaimed cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa especially with María Candelaria winning the top prize at the Cannes Festival.[21] Other celebrated Fernández films were La perla (1945), Enamorada (1946), the American-Mexican production The Fugitive (1947), directed with John Ford, Río Escondido (1947), La Malquerida (1949) and Pueblerina (1949).

In 1948 there was another "first" for Mexican cinema: The trilogy of Nosotros los pobres, Ustedes los ricos and Pepe el Toro, starring Mexican icons Pedro Infante and Evita Muñoz "Chachita" and directed by Ismael Rodríguez.

The only other comedian with the same level of popularity as Cantinflas was German Valdez "Tin-Tan". Tin-Tan played a pachuco character appearing with a zoot suit in his films. Unlike Cantinflas, Tin-Tan never played as a pelado, but as a Mexican-American. He employed pachuco slang in many of his movies and frequently used Spanglish, a dialect that many Mexican residents disdained.

In the middle of the 1940s, the Spanish director Juan Orol started the production of films with Cuban and Mexican dancers. This cinematographic genre was named "Rumberas film", and was very popular with the Latin American audiences. The stars of this exotic genre were María Antonieta Pons, Meche Barba, Ninón Sevilla, Amalia Aguilar and Rosa Carmina.

Other relevant films during these years include Espaldas mojadas (Wetbacks) by Alejandro Galindo, Aventurera a melodrama starred by Ninón Sevilla, Dos tipos de cuidado (1951), El Rebozo de Soledad (1952) and Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) (1950), a story about impoverished children in Mexico City directed by the Mexican of Spanish ascendent director Luis Buñuel, a very important figure in the course of the Mexican Cinema of the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the most important Buñuel's films in his Mexican period are Subida al cielo (1952), Él (1953), Ensayo de un crimen (1955) and Nazarín (1958).

The themes during those years, although mostly conventional comedies or dramas, touched all aspects of Mexican society, from the 19th century dictator Porfirio Díaz and his court, to love stories always tainted by drama.

1960s through 1980s

See: Luchador films, Ficheras films and Mexploitation.

During the 1960s and 1970s many cult horror and action movies were produced with professional wrestler El Santo among others. Luis Buñuel released his last Mexican films: El ángel exterminador (1962) and Simón del desierto (1965).

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the work of notable Mexican young directors flourished: Arturo Ripstein (El castillo de la pureza–1972; El lugar sin límites–1977), Luis Alcoriza (Tarahumara–1965; Fé, Esperanza y Caridad–1973), Felipe Cazals (Las poquianchis–1976–; El Apando–1976), Jorge Fons (los cachorros–1973–; Rojo Amanecer −1989), Paul Leduc (Reed, Mexico insurgente −1972-; Frida, Naturaleza Viva), Alejandro Jodorowski (El topo– 1972–; Santa Sangre–1989), the Chilean Miguel Littin (Letters from Marusia–1976), Jaime Humberto Hermosillo (La pasión según Berenice–1972–; Doña Herlinda y su hijo–1984) and many others. His films represented Mexico in notable international film festivals. American directors as John Huston realized some Mexican-set English language films (i.e., Under the Volcano–1984).

What is now Videocine was established in 1979 as Televicine by Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, whose family founded Televisa, with which Videocine is co-owned. The company became the largest producer and distributor of theatrical movies in Mexico and remains such today. By the time of Videocine's establishment, it had become the norm for a Mexican movie to reach its largest post-theatrical audience through television carriage rights with any of the Televisa networks.

The 1961 film The Important Man (original title Animas Trujano) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film[22] and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1962. The 1965 film Always Further On won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival.[23] The film was also selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 38th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[24] Some films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Films of the time are the 1960 Macario, 1962 The Pearl of Tlayucan (original title Tlayucan), 1975 Letters from Marusia (original title Actas de Marusia).

Nuevo Cine Mexicano (New Mexican Cinema)

Mexican cinema suffered through the 1960s and 1970s, until government sponsorship of the industry and the creation of state supported film helped create Nuevo Cine Mexicano (New Mexican Cinema) in the 1990s. The period spanning the 1990s to the present has been considered as the prime era of the (New Mexican Cinema).

It first took place with high quality films by Arturo Ripstein, Alfonso Arau, Alfonso Cuarón, and María Novaro. Among the films produced at this time were Solo con tu pareja (1991), Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) (1992), Cronos (1993), El callejón de los milagros (1995), Profundo carmesí (1996), Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (Sex, Shame, and Tears) (1999), The Other Conquest (2000), and others such as La Misma Luna (2007).

More recent are Amores perros by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Y tu mamá también by Alfonso Cuarón, El crimen del Padre Amaro by Carlos Carrera, Arráncame la vida by Roberto Sneider, Biutiful (2010) (also directed by Iñárritu), Hidalgo: La historia jamás contada (2010), Instructions Not Included (2013), Cantinflas (2014), and the remake of the 1975 Mexican horror film Más Negro que la Noche (Blacker Than Night) (2014) and also the first 3D film of Mexico.

In the latest years it was noticed the increasing success of a group of Mexicans in Hollywood cinema, specially with directors Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro as well as cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. All three directors had won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Director and Lubezki won both prizes for Best Cinematography for three consecutive years.

For the other side the success of the films Nosotros los Nobles and Instructions Not Included in 2013, gave way to the development of similar projects trying to focus on the use of known Mexican TV stars such as Omar Chaparro, Adal Ramones or Adrian Uribe. The majority of them are romantic comedies focused on telenovela-style stories.

This, however, should not prevent the success of other directors in the development of dramatic films, such as Carlos Reygadas and Alonso Ruizpalacios.

In 2017, Alfonso Cuaron travelled back to Mexico to film his most intimate film, Roma. The film, distributed by Netflix went on critical acclaim and was the second Mexican movie to win the Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film, while Cuaron got the Best Director award. Also it becomes the first Mexican movie to be nominated to both Best Film and Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards, while getting a total of 10 nominations including Best Actress for mixtec actress Yalitza Aparicio and Best Supporting Actress for Marina de Tavira.

Mexploitation subgenre

A Mexican cinema subgenre is the Mexploitation subgenre, itself part of the Mexican action films genre. A second sub-genre within this sub-genre is the narco-filme, films about fictional drug cartels battling the police and each others. During 2019, Bancomext announced the financing of up to 50 percent of the film-making costs of many films, including Mexican action films.[25] Mexican action film stars include the Almada brothers, Fernando and Mario Almada, Jorge Rivero, Rosa Gloria Chagoyán (Lola la Trailera), the Dominican Republic-born Andres Garcia, Bernabe Melendrez and Max Hernandez Jr..

Mexican cinema personalities





See also


  1. "Infraestructura de exhibición y festivales" (PDF). Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  2. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Table 1: Feature Film Production – Genre/Method of Shooting". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. "Exhibición y distribución" (PDF). Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  5. "6 things you may not know about Oscar statuettes". March 2010. Retrieved 2011-06-15.
  6. Alvarez, Alex (22 February 2013). "Meet the Mexican Model Behind the Oscar Statue". ABC News. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  7. Mora, Carl J. Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society 1896–1988, p. 5,6. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. ISBN 0-520-04304-9
  8. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México: Clío. p. 12. ISBN 968-6932-45-3.
  9. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F.: Clío. p. 13. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  10. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F.: Clío. p. 14. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  11. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F.: Clío. p. 19. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  12. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F.: Clío. p. 15. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  13. Mora p. 17-21
  14. Dávalos Orozco, Federico. Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F. p. 18. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  15. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F.: Clío. p. 17. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  16. Dávalos Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. México, D.F.: Clío. p. 21. ISBN 9686932453. OCLC 37403415.
  17. "A Century of Mexican Cinema by David Wilt". 2003-10-28. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  18. Latinas in the United States : a historical encyclopedia. Ruíz, Vicki., Sánchez Korrol, Virginia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2006. ISBN 0253346800. OCLC 74671044.CS1 maint: others (link)
  19. Mora p. 56.
  20. Mora p. 59.
  21. "The 34th Academy Awards (1962) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  22. "Festival de Cannes: Always Further On". Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  23. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


  • GARCÍA RIERA, Emilio (1986) Época de oro del cine mexicano Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) ISBN 968-29-0941-4
  • GARCÍA RIERA, Emilio (1992–97) Historia documental del cine mexicano Universidad de Guadalajara, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA), Secretaría de Cultura del Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco y el Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (IMCINE) ISBN 968-895-343-1
  • GARCÍA, Gustavo y AVIÑA, Rafael (1993) Época de oro del cine mexicano ed. Clío ISBN 968-6932-68-2
  • PARANAGUÁ, Paulo Antonio (1995) Mexican Cinema British Film Institute (BFI) Publishing en asociación con el Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (IMCINE) y el Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA) ISBN 0-85170-515-4
  • HERSHFIELD, Joanne (1996) Mexican Cinema, Mexican Woman (1940–1950) University of Arizona Press ISBN 0-8165-1636-7
  • DÁVALOS OROZCO, Federico (1996). Albores del Cine Mexicano (Beginning of the Mexican Cinema). Clío. ISBN 968-6932-45-3.
  • AYALA BLANCO, Jorge (1997) La aventura del cine mexicano: En la época de oro y después ed. Grijalba ISBN 970-05-0376-3
  • MACIEL, David R. Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers, Wilmington, Delaware: SR Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8420-2682-7
  • AGRASÁNCHEZ JR., Rogelio (2001). Bellezas del cine mexicano/Beauties of Mexican Cinema. Archivo Fílmico Agrasánchez. ISBN 968-5077-11-8.
  • MORA, Carl J. Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896–2004, Berkeley: University of California Press, 3rd edition 2005. ISBN 0-7864-2083-9
  • NOBLE, Andrea, Mexican National Cinema, Taylor & Francis, 2005, ISBN 0-415-23010-1
  • AGRASÁNCHEZ JR.., Rogelio (2006). Mexican Movies in the United States. McFarland & Company Inc. ISBN 0-7864-2545-8.
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