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January 18, 2004

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (IMDB) documents the failed April 2002 coup in Venezuela againt populist president Hugo Chávez. Although he is portrayed throughout the film as a "man of the people," someone who listens to the poor (he even does a weekly call-in show and assitants compile hand-written notes submitted to the palace), Chavez has been portrayed as anti-democratic by Venezuela's wealthy population and by current US leaders.

Filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain had come to Venezuela with the intentions of making a much different documentary, one that focused on Chávez's rise to power and his promotion of literacy and economic programs among the nation's large poor population (several poor Venezuelan proudly display copies of their constitution), but the filmmakers happened to be present in the presidential palace when the coup, led by a small cabal of millionaires who oppoesd Chávez's plans to redistribute the nation's oil wealth, began happening around them. Two days later, the filmmakers are still in the palace when the palace guard, still loyal to Chávez, retake the palace, capturing many of the coup's leaders while others, including the newly installed president, manage to escape. What is perhaps most amazing about the entire event is the civility with which the coups took place: many of the opposition leaders who attempted to oust Chávez remain active in the opposition to this day.

The documentary raises several questions about globalization, and I'm intrigued by the different readings the film seems to have inspired. Roger Ebert--in a highly sympathetic review--focuses on the film's subtle implication that the CIA, or the Bush White House, may have supported the coup. To be honest, this is not a reading that I really gleaned from the film. Certainly Chávez's resistance to globalization and his attempts to restructure the Venezuelan oil industry have not won him many popularity points with the current US regime, but the film offers no real evidence to support such a thesis (as the less sympathetic New York Times review points out).

One of the film's more significant points seems to focus on the media coverage of the coup. The filmmakers are careful to emphasize the fact that Venezuela's private media are accountable to the oil companies and the wealthiest 20% of the population. They then proceed to show the stark distinctions between the news coverage and the events themselves, which the filmmakers capture with their camera. In general, it's a very successful tactic. The private media appear slick and over-produced, and the news commentators are called into question by their absurd critiques of Chávez, including one commentator who suggests that the president has a "Freudian sexual attraction" to Fidel Castro.

They also interview a fired news director who comments on the editorial decision to implicate Chávez's supporters in the deaths of ten Venezuelans using careful editing to distort what actually happened: the supporters were merely defending themselves against snipers, not firing into the crowd, as the television broadcast suggests. Meanwhile, the coup's supporters shut down the one public television station, which had provided Chavez with a primary outlet for communicating with the people. Like Walter Addiego of the San Francisco Chronicle, what struck me most about the film was that "political invective and media manipulation have real victims," and the uncertainty about what was really happening both inside and outside the palace walls. The film makes clear the ways in which economic interests determined how the events of the coup were covered in the privately-owned media.

Revolution is definitely well worth seeing, its critique of the "unreality" of televised images an important one. As the film suggests, media coverage can have profound consequences on people's lives. Chávez's status as leader of Venezuela continues to be contested, especially given the United States' significant economic interests in the region.

Posted by chuck at January 18, 2004 12:37 AM

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I have to agree that "The revolution will not be televised" (TRWBTV) is a very well made film, if it only were a fiction movie... Unfortunately, the film is supposed to be a documentary, and as such it has major flaws.

First, all Venezuelans know that on a television and radio broadcast on April 11 (actually early in the morning of April 12), the military high commander, whose spokesperson was General Lucas Rincon, its highest ranking official, said to the whole nation that Hugo Chavez had resigned. The funny thing is that this critical event is not shown in Bartley and O'Brien's film. They could have used that to support the coup idea, but they did not. Why? Could it be because General Lucas Rincon is a staunch supporter of Chavez and until very recently his Defence Minister? Could it be because Bartley and O'Brien would have a hard time explaining how one of highest ranking "Chavistas" is also one of those who allegedly ousted him?

Second, Bartley and O'Brien show that "coup's supporters shut down the one public television station," as you write in your review. Well, it happens that every Venezuelan who was watching public television on the evening of April 11 saw its Director closed down the station with a final message (for all to watch and listen to) saying that Chavez was no longer in power and that he and the station employees had decided to leave. A bit later that night, one could see also how reporters from an all-news TV station walked by the empty halls of VTV, even before the police or the military made their presence there. Then, why do Bartley and O'Brien say that the station was shut down? Could it be that they are just lying?

Third, in their film, Bartley and O'Brien used the testimony of Richard Izarra -- the guy who was fired from one of the commercial TV stations -- as their main "witness" for the "media coup" on April 11. However, why didn't they say that Richard Izarra is the son of William Izarra, a military officer who in 1992 "accompanied" Chavez in the bloody coup against the then democratically elected president Carlos Andres Perez? Why didn't Bartley and O'Brien say that Izarra works for the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington? Would it be because this would destroy any credibility of their main "witness"?

Fourth, contrary to a video from a TV station and all first-hand accounts I know of the events that took place in the afternoon of April 11 2002, Bartley and O'Brien claim that the "Llaguno bridge shooters" did not shoot at the demonstrators because there was nobody down on the street where they were shooting at (allegedly they were shooting at the police). To support their claim, they show an apparent amateur video where one could see an empty street where the demonstrators were supposed to be. However, as Wolfgang Schalk demonstrated in an analysis of Bartley and O'Brien's film, the amateur video shown by Bartley and O'Brien was recorded around 1:00-1:30PM while the shootings took place later in the afternoon (about 4:00PM). By analysing the shadows from the surrounding buildings, he could show that whereas in the amateur video the shadows were very close to the base of the buildings (shorter shadow), in the video from the TV station the shadows can be seen near the other side of the street (much longer shadow). Why did Bartley and O'Brien decide to make it appear that the two videos were recorded about the same time when they were not? Could it be because what the amateur video really shows is that the shooters were waiting for the demonstrators to pass by to shoot them? Otherwise, why were they hiding on the bridge (they can be seen either behind the adjacent buildings or on lying on the street). By the way, after repeated requests to the government by the opposition to conduct an inquiry into the April 11-13 killings, nothing has been done.

Fifth, all Venezuelans who were watching commercial TV that day know that while the killing of civilians was taking place during the afternoon of April 11, Chavez had ordered all TV and radio stations to broadcast him giving some kind of speech. Because the commercial TV stations are forced by law to broadcast the president's speeches any time he demands it, they decided to split the TV screen, one side showing Chavez's talk and the other showing the massacre that was taking place on the streets of Caracas. Bartley and O'Brien failed to show any of this. Why?

There are many more things that are wrong with this film. Wrong in two senses, inaccurate and dishonest. Some scenes that allegedly took place on April 11 actually happened on April 13, after Chavez was back in power (the public TV station taken off the air on the 13th not on the 11th, as the authors claim). Others, like the big celebration of Chavistas which the authors claim to have occurred during the day of the coup, actually took place long before, when Chavez was certainly extremely popular (to demonstrate this is simple, one of the persons seen celebrating with the "Chavistas" had broken up with Chavez about a year before April 11). The tanks that are seen "surrounding the palace", which the film attributes to the opposition military were actually ordered by Chavez himself when he decided to implement "Plan Avila" (recordings of Chavez ordering his Generals to implement the plan has been made public, obviously given to the press by someone inside the military). Finally, contrary to claims made in the film, Carmona did not leave the country right after the coup. He was arrested and remained in the country under house arrest until May, when he sought political asylum in Colombia (and yes, he travelled to Miami for a short while, but near 5 months after the coup).

All these events and many others have been amply documented in the Venezuelan press and on TV. Many of them have been registered in audio and videotapes. I am sure that had Bartley and O'Brien done their research properly and honestly, they would have probably been able to obtain copies of them. Contrary to the film's title, if there has been a revolution that has been televised, it is Chavez's. Instead, they simply decided to hide events that all Venezuelan's watched and listen and manipulate the information that failed to support their ideological position.

Venezuelan film makers, Wolfgan Schalz and Thaelman Urguelles have produced a very careful investigation into the April 11-14 2002 in Venezuela, where they uncovered many more misrepresentations, inaccuracies, and lies through out the film. They are working on a shortened version of their documentary, which directly contradicts most of the assertions made in TRWBTV. Because the film was partially supported by the BBC, Schalz and Urguelles have asked the British corporation to give them a chance to reply to Bartley and O'Brien by showing their own documentary. Hopefully, they'll get their chance.

Now that the truth about the Venezuelan situation is starting to be known outside Venezuelan borders -- after several human rights organizations have published evidence of violations to human rights, including murder and torture of civilians by Chavez's police and military forces; attacks on journalists by pro-Chavez armed groups and the Chavez-controlled "Nazional" Guard; and the unlawful incarceration of former military officers, journalists, and politicians -- TRWBTV might be recognized by what it is: pure propaganda in the best Goebbelsian style.

Posted by: frank at March 8, 2004 9:23 AM

Just a quick note for now: I found a Common Dreams article from November 2003, which reports that the film was withdrawn from the Amnesty International Film Festival (due to saftey concerns for Amnesty workers). One of the people interviewed about the controversy is Wolfgang Schalk, whom you mention in your comment:

A Venezuelan TV producer and engineer, Wolfgang Schalk, is leading the campaign against the film. He said yesterday, in an email, that the film presented a distorted version of events. Mr Schalk said he had spent five months investigating the film. Schalk states, "It tells a nice story with 'true' images of a 'coup' from the inside. But my 24 years of experience with TV, and a lifetime of living in Venezuela, told me something was wrong." He assembled a forum with a general, a news executive of a private television station and the chief of police to analyze it, he said.

URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1122-10.htm

Posted by: chuck at March 8, 2004 10:24 AM

To add to that comment, I'd have to refresh my memory considerably to be able to respond fully to your criticism of it (I haven't seen TRWNBT since January) in any detail. I *do* think the film is flawed in its almost uncritical take on Chavez, but I'd also be curious to know how Schalk's interests are met by his narrative of the coup's events.

Posted by: chuck at March 8, 2004 10:30 AM

I know that Schalk and Urguelles have produced/directed a movie about the events on April 11. They already showed it to an audience in Caracas. I've been told that they are preparing a shorter version to show publicly, but I don't know details. BTW, one thing that Schalk showed is that there were several slightly diferent versions of the film (TRWBTV), depending on the country where it was to be shown.

That Bartley and O'Brien were uncritical is Chavez is bad, but what bothered me most about the film is that they left out critical events that should have been there. How could they not show the announcement of Chavez' resignation? How could they lie about things that most Venezuelans know because they watch them on TV or heard them on the radio during those days?

Also, reviews of this film, make me think about the criteria for judging/assessing a documentary. Should they be the same criteria than for fiction films? I'm not a journalist or a media critic. so I dont know if applying the same criteria is appropriate. One review I read had a note at the end saying that the review was not an endorsement of the actual events that took place (the guy liked the film), only of the movie, which I guess is OK.

Posted by: frank at March 10, 2004 1:34 PM

I'll start with your last paragraph first. As a film scholar interested in documentaries, I find this to be an incredibly complicated question, especially in a film that deals with such volatile political topics. I do believe that documentary filmmakers have some responsibility to their audience, especially when the topic is not widely understood (few non-Venezuelans will know the specifics of this history). Of course, no documentary can ever be completely objective, nor should savvy viewers expect that. Further, it's important not to expect filmmakers to present material in a way that conforms to the practices of other institutions (court cases, for example), but because the film portrays itself as "journalism," albeit with a clear political bias, we should expect it to be factually correct.

Because one of the points of "Televised" is the gap between broadcast footage (on the corporate-controlled networks) and the documentary, this question becomes even more complicated. I'm not sure that what was shown on TV (or broacast on radio) can safely be understood to have been reliable information given the conflict between the privately-owned media and Chavez's coalition, but excluding the resignation scene does seem incredibly problematic (I also had probelms with the vague insinuations of US involvement without clear evidence).

That doesn't mean that the TRWNBT filmmakers are excused from misrepresenting things. Perhaps a better way of stating my previous claim is that the filmmakers were not self-critical. They rarely seemed to question their interpretation of events (I had displaced their interpretation onto Chavez in my previous comment). I find this lack of self-consciousness somewhat problematic (I had a similar response to Robert Greenwald's "Uncovered," even though I agree with the basic argument of his film).

I guess that my question about Schalk is that his criticsm of the film (I haven't seen his documentary) seems just as politically motivated as the documentary, if not more so. The quotation I used suggests that the panel he created (featuring a private TV executive and the chief of police) doesn't seem to leave much room for dissent from "his" POV.

Posted by: chuck at March 10, 2004 4:27 PM

It is impossible not to be politically motivated in Chavez's Venezuela. Chavez himself have said it: either you're wih me or against me. For him, if you are Venezuelan, you are either a "revolutionary" or a "traitor." (Those are his words, literally. His favorite words to refer to the opposition are "oligarchs" and "traitors").

It's hard to understand for anyone who lives in the developed world the kinds of things that are going on in that country. Surreal. Probably the closest analogue to the current situation in Venezuela would be Zimbabwe. The one difference is that Mugabe has been in power for many more years, but if Chavez keeps his promise, he will be in power until 2021 (he's said it many times).

I haven't seen Urguelles (he's a Venezuelan filmaker) and Schalk's documentary, but I saw their commented demonstration of TRWBTV. There are some scenes that I cannot say whether they are right or not. For instance they say that one scene inside palace with one of Chavez's men having an conversation on his cellphone, was a dramatization made explicitly for the film. And the same with others that I don't remember now. But other events, shown or not, are well known, so they did not discover anything new.

But coming back to your statment about Schalk's being politically motivated and TRWBTV, one thing is being politically motivated and quite another being dishonest (which I charge Bartley and O'Brien are). I can understand that people are anti-globalization or are against neo-liberalism, but adulterating reality, changing dates and times, hiding critical events, to give support to Chavez's regime, I can't. No matter how good Bartley and O'Brien's intentions culd have been.

And if specific scenes in the movie have been manipulated, one overall idea of the film, that the Venezuelan opposition is composed of rich white, right-wing, people and Chavez's supporters is composed of poor brown, left-wing, people is also wrong. Did Bartley and O'Brien mention that all political left-wing parties in Venezuela, with the exception of the Communist party (bassically a Stalinist party), are part of the opposition? Did they mention that the vast majority of the labor unions are opposed to Chavez? (he tried to win the elections in the labor unions, but was badly defeated). Did they mention that basically the whole student movement is also anti-chavez? Did they mention that Chavez has more military officers (57) in positions of power than any other president in the country's history (including dictators)? Did they mention that Chavez has been accused of crimes against humanity to the Hague Tribunal by the families of the victims of the April 11 killings (the first venezuelan president to be accused of such crimes)?

These are things a thar are public knowledge, things that aren't hard to find about. To me, Bartley and O'Brien are either very incompetent film-makers or lack journalistic integrity. I think the latter is closer to the truth.

Posted by: frank at March 11, 2004 2:03 PM

I find myself wavering between defending TRWNBTV and dismissing it throughout our conversation, so I'll say that I really appreciate the extent to which you have complicated my initial reading of this film. One of the main reasons I'm even defending the film at all is simply to think through "the politics of images" much more carefully and generally, not because I feel particualrly connected to the film itself.

I'll agree (based on my limited knowledge) that the film misrepresents what's happened in Venezuela. Whether that is intentional or not, I don't know. I think that's what I meant when I suggested that the filmmakers had been "seduced" by Chavez. In a sense, they may have believed what they wanted to believe, which might have led to the film's distortions (this doesn't excuse whatever distortions exist, but offers an alternative explanation).

I'll admit that my politics (suspicious of certain forms of globalization that benefit the few rather than the many, etc) probably played a role in my initial interpretation of the film, and I'd agree that if TRWNBTV does distort the truth, then it damages the film's credibility.

Interesting point about how the film represents the political situation in Venezuela (suggesting that the opposition is a rich, white, right-wing minority, etc), but I have one (honest) question: isn't that image from *before* the election, when Chavez did win with a large majority of the vote? I'll certainly agree that the political situation there has changed since, that student groups (among others) have protested against him, so I think that criticism might be a little difficult to support.

Posted by: chuck at March 11, 2004 11:58 PM

Chavez seduced the majority of the people from 1998 up until about 2001. He had the support, not only of the poor but of most of the middle class and even many of the rich. Henrique Otero (owner of "El Nacional," probably the most widely read newspaper in the country), for instance, made available his airplane for Chavez to use during his electoral campaign. At the same time, most of the left was behind him. The main parties, such as Movement toward Socialism (MAS), Radical Cause (CausaR), Red Flag and other, smaller ones, supported him. Aside from him being very charismatic, people believed in him, because he promised to get rid of corruption, take care of poor, fight crime, and invest in development. During the electoral period, he never mentioned the word "revolution," never talked about being friends with the Colombian guerrilla (FARC, ELN), or closing Venezuela's ties with Cuba. Had he done that, he may have never won.

Note: Although Chavez won with a landslide, only 40% of the electorate actually voted (Chavez got 35% of those). I guess most Venezuelans didn't really care who won.

Then in 1999-2000? some Venezuelan journalists reported that Vladimiro Montesinos -- drug traficker and right-hand man of ousted Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori, who was being sought by the new Peruvian authorities and the Interpol -- was hiding in Venezuela with the help of Chavez. These reports continued for several months, with the government always denying them. Well, it turned out that Montesinos was captured by the investigative police (sort of like the FBI) in Venezuela. This was the beginning of the end of the honey moon of local journalists with the Chavez's regime. Journalists began reporting on other "fishy" situations, which Chavez did not like (ties with the Colombian guerrilla; major cases of corruption within the government; Chavez's own hate discourse; the arming of civilian groups with military weapons, such as the "Tupamaros," the "Carapaicas" or the "Bolivarian Liberation Front" and others). By 2002, Venezuelan journalists were banned from interviewing or talking to the president. Chavez said in one of his marathonic "cadenas" that he would only accept interviews with the foreign press. And so it is up to this day.

A word about "cadenas" ("chains" in English): In Venezuela there is a law that authorizes the president to force all radio and TV stations in the country to broadcast whatever the president demands. Previous presidents of the country used this authority to broadcast speeches or ceremonies on special events (for instance, the presidential discourse on July 5th, Venezuelan Independence Day; the visit of a foreign head of state, etc.). Depending on the occasion, these were mostly short and sporadic. Chavez changed that. Not only his "cadenas" are long (some of them have lasted for more than 5 hours -- of him, talking), but they have become an almost daily routine. During the week of the coup, for instance, he had 17 of them; the last one while the people were being killed on April 11. Some people have even suggested that Chavez called this cadena intentionally to prevent TV stations to broadcast the massacre.

So, to answer your question, yes, Chavez had a lot of support. And as I said, not only from the poor majority but from most socio-economic groups. He could have used this to do well for the country, but he decided that it was more important to create conflict rather than union; more important to arm civilian para-military groups than to fight crime (in 1998 there were 4500 murders in Venezuela; in 2003 there were 13500), to destroy the industrial base of the country rather than help create industries (about 60% of all companies have gone bankrupt during the last 5 years), among many other very bad decisions.

Unfortunately, Chavez is winning. Not because he has support but because he controls all institutions. The situation with the recall referendum against his mandate is really sad. There won't be one. The electoral council decided in a 3-2 vote to discard millions of signature for mere technicalities. The main one being that the data (name, birthdate) were not hand written by the people who signed but by people who tried to help (some people were too old or frail to fill all their data). Never mind that the rules approved before the recall petition did not make any mention of this "rule."

Posted by: frank at March 13, 2004 7:12 PM

Dear Chuck:

Three years ago you made a note on "the revolution will not be televised" which got very good responses from Frank.
I have been investigating this film for a year and made a documentary of a university forum in October 2003 and finished the documentary about July 2004. It´s called "X rays of a lie". On this link you can see it or if you wish a DVD copy I can send it to you in the States via mail. The only requisite would be your complete address for the delivery. I would like your comments on it because it shows with videos and the testimony of the general who disobeyed president chavez to take the tanks to go against 1 millon protestors that went to the presidential palace to tell him to go away and have new elections.

As for the Amnesty incident, I live in Venezuela and the only "weapon " I have is my PC and Internet. The only request I tell the people that screen TRWNBT is that they show both films so that the people decide where is the truth. Denying a screening of a film is censorship. But oddly enough, many organizations NGO that talk about peace and even King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center in New York ( In september 2006) didn´t accept a "right of reply" so that "X Rays.." could be screened at a later date.
The other part where the people of Amnesty in Venezuela were "threatned with their lives" is completely false.

About Richard Izarra, well he was posted as prss conselour at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington and went , together with the embassador to show TRWNBT in many parts of the States. How strange

Anyway, you can see the film on internet at:

or the DVD that also has more detailed photos and documents on the matter. You choose.

On the film , at the end, you will find who instigated this massacre on his own words.

Wolfgang Schalk

Posted by: Wolf at February 19, 2007 10:17 PM

I'll try to check out the Google video link when I get a chance, but right now I have a number of other obligations that have to come first. I do have to address one claim, though. Choosing not to screen a film is not censorship. If a government body stopped a screening of a film, that would be censorship, but festival organizers are under no obligation to screen every film they are sent, especially given that many festivals are sent hundreds of films that are not accepted for screening.

Posted by: Chuck at February 19, 2007 11:25 PM

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