Published on Wednesday, November 5, 2003 by the New York Times
'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised':
Tumult in Venezuela's Presidential Palace, Seen Up Close
by Stephen Holden
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," a riveting documentary, is not the movie that the Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain envisioned when they traveled to Venezuela to film a portrait of Hugo Chávez, that country's left-wing president. A volatile force in Latin American politics, Mr. Chávez, who was elected president by a landslide in 1998, was shaking up the status quo, having vowed to take control of Venezuela's oil industry and redirect its wealth to benefit the poor.
Two days later a popular uprising brought more than a million protesters to the streets of Caracas and forced the new government out of office. Mr. Chávez returned in triumph. The filmmakers were lucky enough to be in the presidential palace when he was removed, and they were there when he returned.
More than a scary close-up look at the raw mechanics of a power grab, the film is also a cautionary examination of the use of television to deceive and manipulate the public. The attempt to seize control never would have gotten off the ground without the fervent support of Venezuela's five private television stations, all politically aligned with oil interests that had hounded Mr. Chávez from the moment he took office. The only television station sympathetic to Mr. Chávez was the state-run channel, whose signal was immediately cut by the new government.
Much of the documentary replays the actual television coverage of the events, and the incident that became the excuse for deposing Mr. Chávez was deliberately misrepresented by the private channels, the film says. Two opposing crowds faced off in front of the presidential palace, and sniper gunfire killed at least 11 demonstrators. Mr. Chávez's supporters were blamed. But excised film clips shown in the movie dispute that claim.
The documentary hints that the C.I.A. might have been involved, but no evidence is offered. And Mr. Chávez is portrayed uncritically as a heroic reformer and robust man of the people.
Invoking the name of the South American liberator Simón Bolívar, he campaigned for office by promising to exert more control over the state oil company and to redirect much its wealth to the 80 percent of the Venezuelan population living in poverty. He rewrote the constitution and reached out to the masses in a weekly television program on the state channel in which the public was invited to call in questions.
From the outset the opposition to Mr. Chávez was intense. His friendship with Fidel Castro was offered as proof that he was a communist, and one television commentator sneered that Mr. Chávez had a "sexual fixation" on Mr. Castro. Another declared him mentally ill.
Because of his friendship with Mr. Castro and his meetings with other authoritarian leaders, Mr. Chávez is not viewed in Washington as a friend of the United States. Venezuela is one of the largest exporters of oil to the United States, and after Mr. Chávez took office, the price of its oil began to rise, and Venezuela helped engineer higher oil prices from other countries as well.
As these tumultuous events play out in the film, which opens today in New York, they generate the suspense of a smaller-scale "Seven Days in May." But at the end we are left with the uneasy sense that the conflict is so deep that more trouble lies ahead.
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED
Directed by Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain; in Spanish, with English subtitles; directors of photography, Ms. Bartley and Mr. O'Briain; edited by Angel Hernandez Zoido; produced by David Power; released by Vitagraph/American Cinematheque in association with HBO/Cinemax Documentary Films. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, South Village. Running time: 74 minutes. This film is not rated.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company