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Hot Docs 2020: “Once Upon a Time in Venezuela” ★★★


Each country is corrupt in its own way. It’s just a matter of how much the person holding the highest office is willing to pay back as a price for unquestionable loyalty. As someone who is from a country where the same policy would apply to its citizens, it made complete sense to process Anabel Rodriguez Rios’ “Once Upon a Time in Venezuela” and share my thoughts.

Villagers of Congo Mirador, in the Venezuelan community of Lake Maracaibo, are on the edge of desperation. As they fight against pollution, corruption, neglect, and indifference from the government, the population starts decreasing at an alarming rate. As the camera quietly follows life in the village, it is like a flame that slowly fades away by capturing the last breath of a life that is about to go away forever.

Lake Maracaibo, the center of Venezuela’s oil industry, is the one main thing that should thrive to keep the economy healthy. However, its health slowly starts declining as if it fell morbidly sick. We then begin following Mrs. Tamara who’s an openly corrupt coordinator from the village. She admires Chavez and does not hesitate to offer bribes in exchange for votes. She is like a Mafioso; nobody would even dare to touch her. That changes when the election year comes and, all of a sudden, people begin refusing the bribe as most of them either stop believing in elections or in the changes that it may bring to their lives.

The film offers the interesting contract of socialism to ponder upon; something that would try to give at least something to the people. But that’s a false assumption made by anyone who is not from socialist countries. The film cleverly captures what it means to be important and, in the meantime, a less significant individual in the political world like a pawn that could be easily sacrificed for nothing. Tamara does not realize that while her actions may not cause the death of the village but they certainly make a significant contribution to that end.

That said, “Once Upon a Time in Venezuela” is a portrait of despair, poverty, and invaluable beings converted into dust by government officials. Each person plays a crucial role in keeping the community alive. But, at some point, someone will have to make the decision to move forward and abandon the home they once cherished and loved – the home they call Venezuela. However, its cold attitude and a lack of empathy leaves no choice for the villagers of Congo Mirador but to do what is best for them.

It’s utterly sad watching their daily life, routine, and meaningless existence. And once you realize that, can we blame them for wanting to add meaning to their life? Not to worry about anything, the air pollution, dirty streets, and to attend corrupt elections that would not solve a single problem? Indeed, Tamara is like a captain of the ship; a captain that watches her ship sinking slowly. But can she bring changes to her community and do better for once is something, I hope, you will get the chance to find out by watching it yourself.

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