Two lone cameras capture a revolution

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'

Rating: HHH

Starring: Hugo Chavez.

Directors: Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Brian.

Parent's guide: NR.

Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes.

In late 2001, Irish broadcast journalists Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Brian traveled to Venezuela with two digital video cameras to film a documentary about President Hugo Chavez.

They had complete access to Chavez and his ministers as the opposition triggered a coup in mid-April 2002. The resulting documentary, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," offers a behind-the-scenes look at a moment in history that escaped every camera but theirs.

Charismatic and controversial, Chavez was beginning his fourth year in office. His "Bolivar Revolution" had passed a new constitution, increased public works, supported literacy reform and redistributed oil profits to the masses.

It was that last move, along with his denunciation of United States foreign policy and its "neo-liberal" globalization, that made his opponents the most nervous. Venezuela is the fourth largest oil-producer in the world and the upper class is rich because of it. The wealthy also control the private media, freed from repression by yet another Chavez reform.

The two filmmakers clearly love Chavez, and as seen through their eyes, it's hard not to cheer along with them. He's at once a demagogue (taking a break from a teeming rally in a sweltering village to hold a weekly call-in radio show), a grandfather (recounting in a low voice the murderous-but-noble exploits of his own grandpa) and a savvy diplomat (instructing his ministers to play to the media). There is no explanation of what exactly entails "neo-liberalism," and little insight into what exactly has brought Chavez to this point, but plenty of fiery, effusive speeches.

The buildup to the coup is similarly skewed. It's sickening to see the wealthy one-percenters, sitting in their glass houses, paranoid about their domestic help. But it's unclear how they build a large enough movement to fill the streets in the coup's critical moments. And there's little exploration of whether the CIA was really helping the opposition, or whether the footage, as spliced in by the filmmakers, is just a correlation.

The best part of the film is the actual coup, as seen from inside the presidential palace. The opposition takes control of the state-run station and soon begins to whitewash the international media. Bartley and O'Briain are the flies on the wall, and the lone mouthpiece for the Chavez supporters. When a teary-eyed female minister turns to the camera and proclaims her love for Chavez, it's startling to think we can actually watch this revolution.

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