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Sometimes it's enough to be in the right place at the right time to make a great documentary. 'Chavez: Inside the Coup' AKA 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' is astonishing in that way. It covers a South American coup from inside the presidential palace. And when the people take back control and restore the popular leader, the filmmakers are still on hand with cameras rolling.
There he is as the film begins: Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, the former military officer and admirer of Bolivar who years earlier attempted his own coup and was imprisoned for it.
Hugo Chavez is a hugger. He hugs and pats and grabs the hand of everyone he meets. He looks young guards in the eye and pats them on the chest as he walks by. They're like his young reflections: they're innocent boys with the same dark Indian face and classic profile he has.
Chavez speaks in a confidential tone. He expresses his loathing of globalization, his disapproval of the US bombing of Afghanistan, his faith that his grandfather was not an 'assassin' but someone who killed another man for honor. Reviewing a film, he stops to tell aides they must use the local media wherever they go in the country to maintain visibility and contact.
He meets crowds in the streets, crowds of the poor, smiling at him, optimistic about their government for the first time in their lives.
He receives hundreds, perhaps thousands of notes and letters, sometimes scribbled on scraps of paper, from poor people who adore him and ask him for help, and he has staff to read all these requests. He has his own weekly call-in radio show where he addresses people directly for all to hear.
Chavez is a big bull of a man, warm but without visible subtlety. He's one of the people, Nasser of Egypt without Nasser's paranoia. Even after being temporarily deposed from the presidency he won by a landslide vote of the 80% poor population of Venezuela, he refuses to prosecute the perpetrators of the coup and many remain in the country as opposition leaders. And for a reason: unlike Nasser, he was popularly elected and by an overwhelming majority. Chavez has a certain populist bravado. His presidency gives the poor hope and he shares that hope.
What we don't see is what specific actions Chavez takes to accomplish political changes in Venezuela. Except for describing his effect on the oil industry, the film isn't specific about the legislative changes of his early presidency. What we do see is a man who plays his role of people's leader and friend of Fidel to the hilt.
Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain came to Venezuela to simply cover Chavez's presidency, obviously sympathetic to his democratic rule and hatred of neo-liberalism and globalization and aware of the Nortenos' jaundiced picture of him emanating from the Bush administration speaking through Colin Powell. The US doesn't like Chavez's greater taxation of the oil companies - Venezuela is the world's fourth largest producer and the US's third ranking source of the substance. They don't like his indifference to the wealthy and to global corporations either.
Colin Powell isn't Chavez's only opposition. In Venezuela the 20% who didn't vote for him, the rich and the bourgeoisie, consider Chavez their enemy and organize for his removal. We see one of their meetings and follow some of their leaders into the street. We also see clips to show how this opposition freely uses the country's privately owned TV stations (only one, Channel 8, is government controlled) to attack Chavez daily as insane and insist he be ousted.
The Chavez opposition arranges a public confrontation that makes his supporters look like killers. Broadcasting this falsification on the privately owned TV stations, they tarnish his image badly and then stage the coup by force where leaders are trapped and Chavez himself forced to flee as a prisoner to save the others' lives. Public outcry swiftly leads to mass opposition of the new coup government though, and the Chavez supporters regain the presidential palace and bring him back. Amazingly, we see all this firsthand.
This documentary is more exciting than any fiction. It's terrifying and sad when the coup happens and we see it from the inside, knowing this was a popular government. It's exhilarating when the elected leaders are able to come back. This has to be some of the most amazing footage of history in action ever filmed.
Except for some information on what happened to Carmona and the other opposition figures after their ouster -- many staying, because of their freedom from reprisals, but Carmona turning up in Miami, no doubt to be coddled by the US and held for future use -- there is nothing further about the situation in Venezuela, which is reported to be very revolutionary and unstable.
'Chavez: Inside the Coup' isn't political analysis but impassioned engagé reportage and as such it has enormous meaning and impact. They were there. It recalls the slogan Granada's revolutionary government used before the Bush (I) takeover: 'Come see for yourself.' Through these Irish filmmakers, that's what we get to do.
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