This week saw the Internet-release of "Moving Pictures o Los Autos de Caracas", the second documentary on Venezuela by Chris Moore of Sol Productions. (The real-world premiere is on October 7th, at the LASA Conference in Toronto.) The film is a methodical meditation on just how Venezuela’s dream of modernity went so badly off the rails. Interweaving seldom-seen historical footage from the U.S. National Archive with interviews with a virtual who’s who of Venezuela pundits – including, ahem, this blogger – it methodically demystifies and unpacks the Chávez era while also doing something that is, sadly, all too rare: give Venezuelan history proper consideration.
The mood is meditative from the start which, when dealing with a subject like the Chávez era, is a declaration all its own: this film is not about to get swept up in propagandistic bullshit. Instead, you soon realize you’re in for a sort of CAT-scan of the petrostate. Moore tries to make chavismo, well, not quite sympathetic, but explicable. Through big-hearted portrayals of everyday chavistas, we get an intimate look at their hopes, annoyances, blindspots and aspirations that fuel the Chávez moment.
Just as important as what we do get, however, is what we don’t get: the film is like a De-Militarized Zone for polarisation, a safe haven from all the usual bullshit that sucks all the air out of most discussions about Venezuela.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing the film in installments. The segment above is the first of four.
It darts from Caracas, to Montreal, to Washington before settling in Amazonas state where we start to see Venezuelans’ everyday realities up close. Watching folks dig a well by hand and discuss the ways, big and small, that the revolution’s promises have turned into smoke, you start to sense the strain people endure as they come to grips with their dashed expectations. Live, on camera, you can actually see how the promise of socialism slowly morphs into a culture of dependency in an indigenous community. It’s pretty enthralling stuff.
The contradictions inherent in petro-rentist socialism are front and center from the start. The tensions between the government’s hypercentralization of power and its radical rhetoric about the distribution of power to the powerless becomes a key theme, alongside the country’s fetishization of the automobile as totem of modernity even as cars render life in Venezuelan cities miserable. Right from the get go, the film underlines that maddening, deeply Venezuelan way that everything and its opposite can be true at once in our country.
Personally, I’m only slightly miffed that they picked out the one quote from our long interview that makes me look like a closet chavista. I’m well aware of how brutal the pressures of the editing suite can be, though, so they get a pass from me for that.
In the main, this kind of filmmaking is a breath of fresh air, really. For reasons I’ve written about before, Chávez-era Venezuela attracts a wildly disproportionate share of bona fide ideological cranks of all ideological persuasions, folks with a temperamental weakness for propagandistic narratives and plainly uninterested in depth and nuance. It’s just a sad fact: by and large, people who get into the story of the Chávez era just aren’t that interested in shades of gray.
Which is why, on Caracas Chronicles, we celebrate the exceptions.
Next week, Part 2.
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