¿¡Revolución!? (Director: Charles Gervais, Canada, 2007): A few years ago, I saw a documentary about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez called The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The filmmakers actually captured the events of a 48-hour-long coup in 2002, and I was riveted by the film and by the story of this small but oil-rich nation. Now Canadian director Charles Gervais has provided an update on how Chavez’s revolution is changing Venezuela.
In the earlier film, the opposition to Chavez seemed more organized and the situation on the ground more volatile. In the years since, there has been no further violence, the press has remained essentially free, and poor Venezuelans continue to benefit from generous programmes which have greatly improved health care and education.
The problem is that Chavez has continued to pick fights with the United States. He has blamed them for the 2002 coup and has hinted darkly that the U.S. is preparing a military invasion of his country to seize its oil reserves. In his efforts to break his country away from an unbalanced trade relationship, he has aligned himself with every anti-American government in the world, which seems patently unwise. But Chavez is a passionate man, and one gets the impression that he doesn’t often think too far ahead. His recent alliance with Iran’s smiling but hardline president Ahmadinejad seems especially dangerous.
Meanwhile, people on the streets seem to support him, with the caveat that no one wants to see him in power for 40 years like Castro. The opposition’s main jibe is that Chavez is importing his ideas from Cuba and exporting them all over Latin America. It is true that there has been a marked leftward swing in most of Latin America’s governments lately, and a few (Ecuador, Bolivia) have openly emulated Chavez’s platform. This is what irks the Americans the most, that they can no longer have the unfettered political influence in Latin America that they once had.
Gervais’ film uses an incident from 2005 as a philosophical starting point. In that year, Chavez gave away one million copies of Cervantes’ book Don Quixote, citing Quixote as the ultimate dreamer and man of action, a true revolutionary. Using brilliant animations and voiceover, the film uses Quixote to outline a ten-point plan for revolution, and then measures Venezuela’s progress. The last point is instructive: Becoming Expendable. It is here where are left at the end of the film. Chavez has done many great things for his country. But his personality cult is unsettling, and even some of his supporters seem worried that he’ll attempt to hang onto his power too long. It’s important to remember that Quixote was also seen as a fool by many people, and that some of his efforts caused more harm than good. Many revolutionary movements have stalled at this point, and it remains to be seen whether Venezuela can maintain its many successes without Chavez.
I approach Venezuela and Chavez from the same perspective as Gervais, as a hopeful sympathizer. His aims and achievements have been commendable; the man himself is a puzzle. The film seems to get the balance right, while communicating the passion and surprising political acumen of Venezuelan citizens from right across the socio-economic spectrum. Lively music and innovative use of animation and voiceover made this extremely polished film even more captivating.
Seville Pictures is distributing the film and it will receive a theatrical release on May 25th in Toronto (at the Royal Cinema). Watch for it.
UPDATE: I’ve now posted my own interview with director Charles Gervais when we spoke during Hot Docs.