Once upon a time, the Venezuelan village of Congo Mirador was prosperous, alive with fishermen and poets. Now it is decaying and disintegrating – a small but prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself. The massive political and economic crisis and one of the world’s largest refugee crises in Venezuela is the backdrop of the documentary Once Upon A Time In Venezuela, selected as Venezuela’s official Oscar submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.
Directed by Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, the film which made history as the first Venezuelan at Sundance Film Festival will be released on December 31, 2020.
With the world’s largest crude reserves at Lake Maracaibo not far from Congo Mirador, Venezuela was one of Latin America’s richest countries through the 1990s. The lake’s namesake city was even referred to as “Venezuela’s Saudi Arabia.” But inequality was high, and the boom time wasn’t to last. In 1999, Hugo Chavez took power and launched the Bolivarian Revolution, centralizing power to the state, redistributing wealth and nationalizing industries including oil and banking. His socialist political reforms put him at odds with the United States, and a hostile relationship lasted until his death in 2013. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, continued Chavez’s legacy, but by 2016, oil prices had fallen by more than 70 percent, plunging the country into a humanitarian crisis. In addition, the Trump administration put sanctions on Venezuela and refused to recognize Maduro’s presidency after highly disputed elections in 2018. Suffering from hyperinflation, environmental degradation, and shortage of food and basic necessities, over 4 million Venezuelans left the country in the past few years, and many millions more are expected to continue to flee in what will be the world’s worst refugee crisis of modern times…
When filmmaker Anabel Rodríguez Ríos visits a remote floating village in Venezuela to see its eternal lightning storms, she discovers another ongoing and alarming situation taking place… Congo Mirador was once a magical, thriving fishing community, built on stilts near Latin American’s biggest oil field. But more recently, Venezuela has been spiraling into chaos and violence, and the village itself is literally sinking from pollution and neglect – a prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself. At the center of the village’s existential fight stands two female leaders: Mrs. Tamara, the Chavez-worshipping coordinator, not above bribery and intimidation, and Natalie, her most vocal critic and school teacher. As confidence erodes under President Maduro and Venezuela shapes up to become the world’s worst refugee crisis in 2020, outpacing the displacement in Syria, will the village find a way to stay afloat or will it become a political and ecological sacrifice? Shot over seven years, Once Upon A Time In Venezuela bears witness to the corrosive consequences of corruption and government neglect that reaches the farthest corners and pits neighbor against neighbor in a struggle for survival.