Sundance 2020: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

A still from Once Upon a Time in Venezuela> by Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by John Marquez.

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela profiles the Venezuelan village of Congo Mirador and looks at how the community has been impacted by the country’s politics.

Politics are a running theme throughout this year’s selection of Sundance documentaries.  I know it’s a cliche to say that all art is political but its true.  Anabel Rodríguez Ríos takes us on a journey down to Venezuela to share the story of a village in her home country.

It’s honestly sad when you think about it.  The once prosperous Congo Mirador is now in disarray.  The village sinks away into the lake while chaos rises.  Anabel Rodríguez Ríos follows the village residents during an important debate on their future.  Two very different sides are at the the center of years-long debate.  On the one hand, there’s Mrs. Tamara and the policies that are very much in line with that of Hugo Chavez.  Opposite her is the outspoken Natalie.  Of course, you can’t blame Natalie and other citizens for being upset.  What the current government is doing is wrong when it comes to bribing and intimidating voters.  This isn’t how a democracy works!

Things started to fall apart when Hugo Chavez came into power and launched the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999.  His policies also meant having a tense relationship with the United States.  Of course, if you thought that things would change when his 2013 death occurred, you’d be in the wrong.

Nicolas Maduro’s policies were very much along the same lines when he came into office.  A few years into his reign, oil prices fell so much that the economy collapsed.  This isn’t all.  The most recent elections were so controversial that the current presidential administration in Washington isn’t bothering to acknowledge the results.  It’s not like relations were great during Barack Obama’s presidency.  If anybody thought things would improve under Trump, there’s some not so-kind words to say there and I’ll just leave it at that.

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela is less of a talking head documentary and more of a verite style film.  Having been shot over seven years, one can see the decline of the village let alone the country.  Things are very bad that millions are leaving Venezuela in droves.  Once Upon a Time in Venezuela shows that there are residents willing to lead the fight against corruption.  One small step at a time.

DIRECTOR:  Anabel Rodríguez Ríos
SCREENWRITERS:  Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, Sepp R. Brudermann

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela holds its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.