Oil and gold-rich Venezuela's dire poverty should prove once and for all that natural resources are almost inconsequential when it comes to average people’s standard of living. Far more important are the rule of law, transparent governance, and a market economy. None of these things exist in the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez. Filmmakers Maxx Caicedo & Venezuelan Nelson G. Navarrete chronicle the grassroots resistance to the oppression and privation of the Chavist regime in A La Calle, which screens as part of the 2020 online edition of DOC NYC--now screening through the 11/20-11/29 encore.
Filmed surreptitiously on the streets of Venezuela, from 2014 to 2019, A La Calle chronicles the rise of the regime, starting with its glory years under Chavez to its current state of international disrepute. Navarrete & Caicedo largely follow events from three perspectives: formerly imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, street-level activist Nixon Leal, and Randal Blanco, an average citizen struggling to get by (with Juan Guaido, the interim President recognized by nearly every real democracy, playing an important role in the third act).
For those unfamiliar with the ongoing Venezuelan tragedy, A La Calle documents step-by-step how Chavez and Maduro eroded constitutional checks-and-balances, criminalized the opposition, and rigged the electoral system in their favor. For a while, they were able to placate the populace with massive, irresponsible public spending binges, but when petroleum prices started falling, the stagnant economy completely cratered. Soon, all the people had left was a dictator who jealousy clings to power.
It is hard to imagine a socialist declining free stuff, but Maduro did exactly that when he perversely refused to allow emergency relief supplies to enter Venezuela, despite the critical shortage of food and medicine. As a result, Venezuelans have launched what one of the film’s experts calls the largest ever collective exodus from a country not currently waging war.
A La Calle, including footage of Lopez in his cell that was somehow smuggled out of prison. In fact, one camera man was arrested by the secret police during filming. Yet, there are also inspiring moments, when literally hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans take to the streets to protest the erosion of their freedoms and support Guaido. To their credit, Caicedo & Navarette try to give the regime a chance to make their case, incorporating considerable interview footage with a party flak and excerpts of Maduro’s media appearances, but it is tough to get a lot of fair-and-balanced point-and-counterpoint when the regime is arresting your crew for doing their jobs.
A La Calle is a thorough history of the rise of dictatorship in Venezuela and a riveting expose of the brutal methods the regime employs to stay in power. (“Brutal” is not an adjective viewers will dispute once they hear Leal’s testimony regarding the torture and sleep deprivation he endured.) It is a valuable work of cinematic journalism. If you want to understand the macro forces at play and the boots-on-the-ground reality in Venezuela, watch this documentary. Very highly recommended (along with Anabel Rodriguez Rios’s Once Upon a Time in Venezuela), A La Calle screens online through tomorrow (11/19), as part of this year’s DOC NYC.