Thursday, November 12, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th. 

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela
Directed by Anabel Rodríguez Ríos
Ticket Information

There are shared traits that can apply to many places across the world and unite communities that might otherwise find few similarities to link them to anywhere else. Cities and towns have governments that may look very different, but there is a power structure that serves to guide them and allows certain people to be in charge of decisions that can affect their laws and livelihoods. When a place is not easily accessible and is not traveled through by anyone on the way to somewhere else, it may rarely be a point of conversation outside of its borders, still prone to the same challenges but largely ignored by those who simply forget or ignore its existence.

On Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, there is a village called Congo Mirador that is surrounded entirely by water. It is no longer a thriving fishing community, and the increasing threat of sedimentation makes those interested in local government determined to secure a path towards survival for their people. Allegiances to the legacy of Chavez dominate much of the political conversation, representing different ideologies present throughout the village that often deter progress, seen most in Mrs. Tamara, the traditional coordinator, and Natalie, a school teacher who feels that the status quo is completely unacceptable.

There is a magical quality to this film almost immediately, as the camera journeys by boat for its first look at the floating village. Its residents are inherently real, content to go about their daily activities despite the presence of cameras that will transmit their quiet way of life to people far away who can’t conceptualize what it would be like to be in this place with the opposing mentalities that are prevalent there. This is a fascinating snapshot spanning seven years that truly offers a window into a community that feels like a different world.

This film, which is a possible contender for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar as well as the official submission for Best International Feature from Venezuela, tackles many topics all at once in its vivid portrait of Congo Mirador. Its residents are passionate and acutely aware of the factors that will either maintain the existence they’ve come to know or have the potential to change it, in turn giving their village hope of survival. The film’s use of music and its extraordinary cinematography are tremendous assets that make this journey to a place almost no audiences will have been to feel like a true immersion.


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