Backstory: Venezuela's cultural revolution
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He likes to quote the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who once said: "I believe that a nation unable to recognize itself in the 21st century fictions that are fed to it will disappear culturally."Skip to next paragraph
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Movies are, in fact, a main focus of Chávez's new engineering initiative. Almost all of what is shown in the country now originates in Hollywood – only about two Venezuelan-produced films are released a year. The industry is so small that it isn't even monitored by major box-office research firms. The Chávez administration wants about 20 percent of all new releases to be Venezuelan-made.
"We forgot as a market that we have wonderful artists," says Mr. Curiel. "How can you fight "Seinfeld?" Syndicates are set up for showing and reshowing and reshowing."
In its attempt to counter what it sees as the hegemony of Hollywood, the Chávez administration has created "Cinema Village." It has put $42 million into the project, through the Ministry of Culture, with the intent of producing 19 feature-length films a year, in addition to documentaries and television series. The project also calls for building 24 screening rooms throughout the country in places without movie theaters. Six have been constructed so far.
The idea is to encourage films that incorporate themes of social empowerment, Latin history, or Venezuelan values. Participants insist it is not a form of political propaganda, but an incubator for budding auteurs and an alternative to American movies and their "stereotypes."
"Hollywood creates movies to sell tickets, and in doing so, we are taught that all Arabs are terrorists, that Africa is poor because it wants to be, that all women in Latin America are prostitutes," says Lorena Almarza, Cinema Village's president, a hip 30-something wearing a red "Chávez" bracelet.
Curiel, who is a technical consultant to Cinema Village but mostly works independently as an editor, is less unequivocal about the project's mission. It is a political tool, he says, but not agitprop. In fact, he believes the program will produce movies that are hardly different from what's already being made.
"We don't make an action film for an action film's sake," he says. "If a movie is about a school, it will be a school in one of the barrios, where most people in Venezuela live. We don't make movies about what happens in the country club here."
Inside a sleek new studio on a highway outside Caracas, Antonio Alfonzo, the costume director for Cinema Village, dons a stray Russian fur hat as he flips through the pages of "The Complete Costume History." He's trying to guide a group of seamstresses who are re-creating women's clothing from the late 1700s and early 1800s. It's all preparation for a TV series, later to be made into Cinema Village's debut feature-length film, "Miranda Returns."
Scheduled to be shot in February, it will chronicle the exploits of Francisco de Miranda, an obscure person in world history but a precursor to Latin America's independence from Spain. Ms. Almarza says the goal is to teach Venezuelans about their history, not to engage in political indoctrination. But she knows that the film and TV series will make at least one person in the audience happy – President Chávez. Miranda is one of his favorite figures in history.
Next up for Cinema Village is a movie about 19th-century peasant leader Ezequiel Zamora, the man after whom Chávez's controversial land redistribution program is named.
The studio is also looking at making a trilogy about Simón Bolívar, the 19th century Latin American revolutionary know as the "liberator," who is the name behind Chávez's broader social and political movement – the "Bolivarian Revolution."
It seems no coincidence that the Cinema Village brochure reads: "Lights, camera, revolution!"