Interview Anabel Rodríguez Ríos & Sepp Brudermann

"This film gives people hope – it is starting a process of collective catharsis.”

Film still: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela, dir. Anabel Rodríguez Ríos (Venezuela).

Don Quichote. A name that comes up frequently when Anabel Rodríguez Ríos and Sepp Brudermann are discussing the people they work with. Like the small team in Caracas that manages their social media. Or the man in Spain who visits cinema after cinema, in person, selling their film Once Upon a Time in Venezuela. The director and producer duo themselves have something of Cervantes’ famous tilter against windmills about them. They spent five years working on their film about Congo Mirador, the fishing community being destroyed by accumulation of silt and oil pollution. They recorded not only how the village is emptying out, but also the elections – in which voters were openly bought off. “Corruption is everywhere and is seen as completely normal”, Brudermann concludes. Rodrígeuz adds: “We were able to film everything. There was only one time when we censored ourselves. This was when an armed militia passed through the village. The young militiamen wanted us to make a video of them. As a filmmaker, you are always on the lookout for lucrative opportunities, but we knew that this would endanger the lives of our crew, and of the villagers.” Screenings of the film in Venezuela are also surrounded by an atmosphere of intimidation and fear. “But the test screening went smoothly, thankfully”, Rodríguez says. “We’ve now planned twelve free screenings, hopefully with more to come. Not on big squares – usually in quieter areas, in someone’s yard. Five mayors have already said they are too afraid to cooperate in a screening.” “The easiest way to get the film seen widely would of course have been distribution on Netflix; even in the remotest places, someone always has a subscription. But Netflix wouldn’t return our mails or calls, so we looked for other ways.

We’ve set aside a year to promote the film – or until the money runs out. But we’ve already received a lot of support for our crowdfunding campaign. Lots of Venezuelans are donating the minimum amount of one dollar. That is all they have, and they are giving it to us.” The principal target group in terms of distribution is the 4.5 million Venezuelans in the diaspora. Brudermann: “They mostly live in Colombia, Mexico, the US and Spain. They stay in touch using some 900 Facebook groups, and we have joined these to spread the word about our film.” Inside Venezuela the film is being shown in cinemas, but as few people can afford a cinema ticket, the filmmakers are relying mostly on guerrilla-style screenings. “We are going to tour with an inflatable screen, also to those areas where the refugees from Congo Mirador now live”, Rodríquez says. “We are working with grassroots and human rights organisations. It is essential that the screenings are accompanied by lots of discussion.” At the university in the Venezuelan city of Merida, the film screened between power outages. “The audience was invited by social media. The discussion afterwards was by telephone, with people using their own limited call credits to take part. That just shows how important this is to them.” “The fact that we were in the running for the Oscars for a while brought a lot of free publicity”, Brudermann says. “Characters from the film became kind of national icons. Stills from the film are even doing the rounds as stickers on Whatsapp. And the responses the film is getting on social media are sometimes heart-breaking. This film gives people hope – it is starting a process of collective catharsis.”

Film still: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela, dir. Anabel Rodríguez Ríos.