Sunday, October 07, 2007

SFGate: "Populist" Chavez makes movies

Venezuela has taken another few steps down the glorious path already traversed by Zimbabwe and North Korea. There are some useful facts in this article, but the tone often seems sympathetic to Chavez. (Why am I not surprised?) The extended title is "Venezuelan film studio tries to counter Hollywood/Populist government dives headfirst into movie business."
Intent on a cultural revolution, Venezuela's fiercely nationalistic government has required radio stations to play more Venezuelan music, promoted art infused with revolutionary zeal and published books extolling the country's transformation under President Hugo Chavez.
"Cultural revolution"--where have I heard that phrase before?
Now, countering what Chavez calls American "cultural imperialism" and the Hollywood movies that pervade here, the populist government is delving headfirst into the movie business. The Bolivarian government, named after its 19th century namesake, is running a new state-of-the-art film studio here, developing scripts venerating the country's history and funding films designed to jump-start Venezuela's moribund filmmaking.
See what I mean about this article? "Jump-start Venezuela's moribund filmmaking"--that's good, right?
"For many years, we had low or no production, one or two films a year, at most," said Lorena Almarza, director of the state studios, Villa del Cine. "Then the Bolivarian government came in, and culture became a constitutional right, which didn't exist before."

Chavez loves a good film yarn, particularly if the theme is political or carries a larger social message. He's expressed his admiration, for instance, for Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River," and he's become fast friends with "Lethal Weapon" star Danny Glover. Indeed, Venezuela's National Assembly approved $17.8 million to bankroll Glover's film about the life of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture.

Oscar winners Sean Penn, who starred in "Mystic River," and Kevin Spacey have also met with Chavez in Caracas. In a visit last week, Spacey said the government-funded studios offered Venezuelan filmmakers the opportunity to "make films about their own country and their own culture."

"I think every country should have this," Spacey said on state television.
Many of the projects at Villa del Cine, or Cinema City, are decidedly political and in tune with the Chavista image of Venezuela as a cutting-edge democracy fighting U.S. imperialism. That has led to documentaries about foreign exploitation of the oil industry and state repression in the 1970s, when successive Venezuelan governments had good relations with Washington.

But Cinema City, which opened a year ago in this town east of the capital, is determined to be best known for its feature-length films, many blending politics and art.

One is about a cold and calculating Cuban exile who assassinates Venezuelan leftists and bombs a Venezuelan airliner - a movie based on the life of a CIA operative, Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted here on terrorism charges. Posada Carriles, who lives in Miami, has declared himself innocent, and a U.S. court has declined to extradite him.

Much of the new fare is along the lines of Cinema City's first film, "Miranda Returns," which opens Oct. 12. Perhaps the studio's most ambitious project, it is about General Francisco de Miranda, who fought in the American, French and Venezuelan revolutions and dreamed of establishing a Latin American republic.

The director, Luis Alberto Lamata, used 120 actors and 1,200 extras and took his cameras as far away as Russia.

Almarza said the idea is to "rescue" Venezuela's rich history, past and present. "The president of the republic insists," she said, "and it's part of our policy of development, the historic debt that we have in this country."
Some observers say that's exactly the problem with Cinema City - the heavy hand of the president and his advisers, namely Culture Minister Francisco Sesto, who gives the green light to the studio's projects.

Jonathan Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan filmmaker, said Cinema City will permit young directors to make movies but only within tight parameters . . .

"They either want movies that portray the revolution as the solution of all the problems of the nation, or they want movies that tell the stories of independence leaders, always with a version that favors values that can be used to celebrate the Bolivarian Revolution," he said. "I don't think there's any chance to make movies that are not in tune with the revolution."
I guess that was for balance. Such conscientious journalists! The article closes with five paragraphs devoted to "Efterpi Charalambidis," who is "among the young directors who have benefited from Cinema City." One should always end on a positive note.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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