Nova Frontier Film Festival Presents ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA Film Review — A People on the Water

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Day breaks over Lake Maracaibo and a village begins to wake up. The houses stand on stilts as the brown water laps their edges and the people begin their day. A woman uses the water to brush her teeth, while her children make breakfast. A man shaves halfway into the water, sitting on his ladder. Children swim as they bathe, getting ready for school. All the while boats pass, the only way to get around in a village with no roads. This is Congo Mirador.

Directed by Anabel Rodriguez Rios, Once Upon a Time in Venezuela sheds light on life in this small fishing village as it faces several challenges to its survival. At the time of filming, the village is experiencing an issue with sediment in the lake it’s situated on. The sediment is the result of pollution, and it is eating up the lake, killing the fish and inviting other pests into the area. The village also has limited resources, such as efficient engines, food, and money for such amenities.

Meanwhile, outside of the village, Venezuela is getting ready to take part in an election between those who supported the late Hugo Chavez and the opposition lead by Nicholas Maduro.

Nova Frontier Film Festival Displays a Story Experienced by Real People

The documentary follows many people in the village but focuses on three in particular:

One is the Government Coordinator Tamara. She works as a representative for the Chavist party, and throughout the film, she is seen tackling the many problems the village faces, from sediment to phones. We see her riding around on boats, talking to residents to get them to vote, and reaching out to government officials in larger cities to persuade them to help her make Congo a better place. Her enthusiasm for her job takes center stage and she sees her life as helping the village.

In opposition to her, however, is the schoolteacher, Natalie. She runs the only school in the village, and with two classrooms, only one is used for the children of Congo. She works to bring education to the village but is hindered by many obstacles. She has a lack of resources given to her and has to fund the school with her own money. Then there is her support of the opposing party that Tamara is a part of. The feud between her and Tamara, while never wholly witnessed, is outspoken as even Tamara outright says Natalie is a cold and unfeeling person who is the reason education is so bad.

While these two feud and try to solve the problems Congo faces, we see life through Yoaini; A ten-year-old, who lives with her brother in the village, and experiences present-day Congo. Her biggest challenge is trying not to grow up too fast, a feat that is almost impossible as having to take care of her family with very little money. She also faces realities such as marriage and parenthood at such a young age.

The story takes place during these tumultuous times in Venezuelan history, with time skips as the events take place. We follow the timeline of these events through the eyes of the people who live and experience life in the village, with only a few acknowledgments and questions from the director.

This movie is perfect for documentary lovers. Especially those who prefer more observant documentarians who allow the film’s content to flow naturally rather than contrive it.


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Director - Anabel Rodriguez Rios
Producer and Editor - Sepp R. Brudermann
Director of Photography - John Marquez
Music -Nascuy Linaries

For more information, watch Once Upon a Time in Venezuela on Amazon.

Images courtesy of Nova Frontier Film Festival

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Claire Hooper
Claire Hooper

About the Author: Claire Hooper

Claire likes creepy!  Claire likes weird too!

Whether it’s horror, fantasy or the screenplays and novels now being written in the back of her mind—Claire is drawn to the surreal. The more non-linear a story unfolds, the more Claire expects to love it and linger with it.

Her many friends who eagerly await baker Claire’s next batch of chocolate chip cookies need not fear that the love of horror and thrillers creeps into her sweet offerings. Those are long-held family recipes she safeguards to share with the circle of friends whom she loves to hang out with, whenever is not writing or studying.

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