Since the inception of the oil industry in the early twentieth century,
Chávez himself has long favored such movies: two of Chávez’s favorite films include El Caracazo, directed by Roman Chalbaud, which depicts popular protests and riots against the corrupt government of Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1989. The second, Amaneció de Golpe (The Coup Awakened) by Carlos Azpúrua, deals with Chávez’s attempted military coup against the Pérez regime in 1992.
By spurring local film production, Chávez and the staff at Villa del Cine hope to counteract the pervasive influence of
Villa del Cine Seeks To Counteract
While researching my latest book, Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008), I traveled to Villa del Cine, located outside of the Venezuelan town of
I sat down to speak with Lorena Almarza, Villa del Cine’s idealistic director. A former student of social and political psychology, Almarza became particularly interested in culture as a means of encouraging community organization. Growing up in the western city of
Once Chávez came to power, Almarza worked with the state-run Bolivarian schools, helping to bring movies to children and provide manuals explaining how students might interpret images and psychological profiles of different characters.
When I asked Almarza to talk about her work at Villa del Cine, she explained enthusiastically that she was proud to be part of an "experimental" state project. Historically, the Venezuelan authorities had provided minimal resources towards cultural promotion. But the Chávez government established a distributor, Amazonia Films, as an alternative to commercial networks.
Since opening in 2006, Amazonia has acquired films from Latin America, Europe and
The new Minister of Culture, Francisco Sesto, began to encourage the creation of audio-visual cooperatives. The idea was that filmmakers would bring their proposals to the table and Villa del Cine would decide if the government was interested in promoting the project. "It’s all about the transformation of the state," she says, "and how people might become participants in the development of film through their own art." So far, Villa del Cine has shot on location in all twenty-four Venezuelan states and in 2005-2006 the studio filmed 357 productions.
Almarza has overseen the production of TV series documenting educational developments under Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution. But Villa del Cine has also shot films about Indians and music, and in 2007 the studio planned to commence work on some fictional films. The authorities also hope to spur the creation of a network of community movie theaters. In 2006, 80 new theaters were created and authorities seek to build yet more that could show films produced at Villa del Cine.
Ultimately, Almarza and her staff hope that films made at Villa del Cine will be shown at most any Venezuelan shopping mall along with the usual
Enter Danny Glover
As I sit with Almarza at Villa del Cine, I turn the discussion towards African-American actor Danny Glover, co-star of the Lethal Weapon and Dreamgirls movies. A long-time civil rights activist and critic of the Bush administration, the actor is chairman of the TransAfrica Forum, an advocacy group for African Americans and other members of Africa’s diaspora.
The Hollywood celebrity, who considers Chávez "remarkable," has been a frequent visitor to
Glover added that he was in
Glover and others later presided over the inauguration of a new "Martin Luther King, Jr." school in the coastal town of
Speaking at the event, Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Bernardo Álvarez declared, "The visit by members of the TransAfrica Forum represents a struggle that goes beyond the figure of Martin Luther King; his struggle, his ideas and the African-American social movements inspired by him. This is a struggle aimed at defending people’s rights, not only in the
Glover, clearly touched by the occasion, commented, "This isn’t Danny Glover the artist. I’m here as a citizen, not only of the