SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! I will go ahead and shamefully admit that I do not know very much about what is going on in Venezuela. I know that there are a lot of people who are more informed about world events than I am, but I also know a lot of people are on the same level as me, or know and care much less. This is why the documentary Once Upon A Time In Venezuela is important for people here in the U.S. to see. A lot of us tend to get caught up on news stories happening on our soil, of which there are legions. Certain folks tend not to pay attention to the news at all in order to retain their sanity. Conversely, others simply don’t care. This documentary makes you care.
The reason that Once Upon A Time In Venezuela is so effective is that it explores a microcosm of the events. Venezuela is on the decline, and it is affecting the village of Congo Mirador on Lake Maracaibo. We meet a series of people who live in this charming town on the water. The houses in this village are on stilts, and everyone travels from place to place by boat. Everyone knows everyone else. There is a lot of camaraderie that boosts the morale of the locals. We see a girls’ beauty pageant and a couple of different gatherings of the town people.
“…is a small part of what’s going on at large in the corrupt Venezuelan government under the leadership of Nicolas Maduro.”
The trouble with Congo Mirador, or simply Congo to the locals, is that Lake Maracaibo is where Venezuela gets its oil from. Which means a lot of sediment is getting in the water. When I say a lot, I mean it. There is more than one scene showing a villager scooping up muck out of the water around their homes or around the areas where they fish. With the sediment comes mosquitoes and rats. Also, with the sediment comes a loss of water in general, which means loss of the plant and animal life as well. In general, at the outset of Once Upon A Time In Venezuela, everyone is doing pretty well, but all are teetering on the edge of decline.
The film revolves loosely around a parliamentary election taking place in Venezuela. A prominent businesswoman and rabid Hugo Chavez obsessor, Chavist party representative Tamara is on a mission to get people to vote for her, going so far as to bribe people into voting. We also meet Natalie, a school teacher who is part of the opposition party, who Tamara is trying to oust from her job. There is a lot of interpersonal drama at play, but the action going on is a small part of what’s going on at large in the corrupt Venezuelan government under the leadership of Nicolas Maduro.