The Festival Internacional Cervantino (FIC), popularly known as El Cervantino, is a festival which takes place each fall in the city of Guanajuato, located in central Mexico. The festival originates from the mid 20th century, when short plays by Miguel de Cervantes called entremeses (singular entremés) were performed in the city’s plazas. Guanajuato is a small colonial-era city with a rich cultural history. In 1972, the festival was expanded with federal support to include more events to add a more international flavor. Since then, FIC has grown to become the most important international artistic and cultural event in Mexico and Latin America, and one of four major events of its type in the world. It is a member of the European Festivals Association and the Asian Association of Theater Festivals In addition to government support, there are also private sponsors such as Telmex, Televisa and Microsoft.
The city of Guanajuato, where the Festival takes place, has historically had a large cultural scene in relation to its size. The richness of the mines in colonial times started a tradition of theaters and other cultural venues to satisfy the desires of the middle and upper classes. The city has a tradition of hosting musical, theatrical and dance events not only in its numerous theaters but also in its many small plazas with benches.
In 1953, Enrique Ruelas of the University of Guanajuato began to put on an annual event called the Entremeses de Miguel de Cervantes Saaevedra, short plays written by the author of Don Quixote. These plays are still part of the annual Festival. In 1972, he founded the Coloquio Cervantino from June to September to expand the annual Entremeses event. Ruelas’s efforts came to the attention of the federal government through actress Dolores del Río. While in the city of Guanajuato, she came across the Entremeses being performed at the Plaza San Roque and was fascinated. Around the same time, former president Luis Echeverría had attended cultural festivals in Europe and was interested in doing something similar in Mexico. Through Echeverría’s cousin, Del Río relayed what she had seen in Guanajuato. The federal government then established the foundation for an international cultural festival, originally proposing it for Acapulco. However, the tradition of the Entremeses was the main reason why Guanajuato was eventually chosen, meshing the two ideas to produce the modern event for the first time in 1972 with performances by artists from fourteen countries including Mexico. For this reason, this year is considered the foundation of the event.
The Festival in its current form was a governmental effort, with the 1972 edition attracting interest solely because of the influence of the politicians promoting it. The Cervantino had its greatest growth from 1976 to 1982, during the presidency of José López Portillo because of the efforts of his wife, Carmen Romano, who promoted it abroad. It quickly gained the attention of noted artists, with Berlin Philharmonic director Herbert von Karajan offering to appear at no cost. Initially the city of Guanajuato had difficulties in hosting the event due to the lack of infrastructure.
Elizabeth II and the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh attended the event in 1975. By decree, an organizing committee was set up in 1976 under the Secretaría de Educación Pública, the state and city of Guanajuato and the University of Guanajuato to invite artists from Mexico and abroad. Some of the first invited by this committee were Mario Moreno Cantinflas and Dolores del Río. This committee is still in charge today, working with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, el Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Instituto de Cultura de Guanajuato. In 1978, Juan Carlos and Sofía of Spain attended as guests of honor.