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the Venezuelan documentary that seeks to reach the Oscars

In Congo Mirador, the houses are leaving. They move away, carried by the water, with their furniture, their utensils and their occupants, and with them their stories.

It sounds like a story, but it is a true story. And it is concerned with « Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador », an emotional documentary that narrates the daily life of the inhabitants of this « town of water » that is disappearing.

It is located in western Venezuela, in the state of Zulia, in the south of Lake Maracaibo, where the oil that made the country famous and absurdly rich is extracted and exploited.

But that wealth is absent in the town.

John MárquezCongo Mirador is one of the « water towns » of Lake Maracaibo.

The houses are stilt houses, constructions in the water that are supported on pillars just a few meters above the surface. There are no roads or vehicles but canals and boats.

« It’s like being in one of those stories by (the American writer) William Faulkner, » says the director of the documentary, the Venezuelan Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, who already made a short film about the place in 2012, « El barril », inspired by some children he saw playing with oil barrels in the lake.

At Congo Mirador, water is everything: food, transportation, education. Children row to school and learn to fish.

It is also the escape route: when the family leaves, they mount the house on two boats.

The documentary is witness to that exodus. When filming began in 2013, there were about a thousand people living there. Today there are only five.

They escape from a natural enemy « that eats the people » called sedimentation, which consists of the accumulation of earth at the bottom of the lake until there is hardly any room for water.

If water is what gives life to Congo Mirador, sedimentation is, then, its death.

But that’s not the only reason they’re leaving. There are also the lack of opportunities, poverty and the lack of interest from the authorities.

And that’s when the documentary begins to unite the history of the people with more complex issues that encompass the Venezuela of the news: migration, poverty, corruption and political division.

Courtesy «Once upon a time in Venezuela, Comngo Minra

« The Venezuelan will feel reflected because we are in a similar situation to that of Congo Mirador, » says Rodríguez from Vienna, where he lives with his family and promotes the documentary, which has already been screened at festivals such as Sundance, Hot Docs, Miami Film Festival and Malaga.

The next date he has in his sights is February 9, when the preselection for the Oscars 2021 will take place.

«Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador» It is nominated by Venezuela in the categories of « Best International Film » and « Best Documentary Feature Film ».

“For us to stay would be like (making ourselves heard) a voice, a cry from a devastated country. It would elevate the Venezuelan in his spirit and in his sense of dignity, « says Rodríguez.

Next, the interview that he offered to BBC Mundo and in which he analyzes his work and how what he addresses is intertwined with a crisis that is difficult to explain and that lasts in time like the Venezuelan one.

What is it about « Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador » that makes it attractive enough to be shortlisted?

The film puts its finger on the sore at a necessary moment.

If it had been made at another historical moment, the resonance would be different. But it resonates because it goes hand in hand with the moment that Venezuelans are living.

It has overwhelmed me to see how so many Venezuelans from such different backgrounds are reflected in the history of Congo Mirador.

It is striking to see how populism has permeated all areas of the country and how corruption has been naturalized in our culture.

(And in that sense, the documentary) also talks about a process of destruction of democracy and the loss of the minimum conditions of existence in the people.

John Márquez In recent years, Congo Mirador has emptied itself of water and inhabitants.

It is a documentary that narrates but does not explain. He delves into the families of Congo Mirador, their poverty, the political division, how they leave town, but does not give figures on the migratory crisis in Venezuela, or poverty or violence. What then is the background of the film?

Is human. It strikes an emotional chord that is difficult to explain, that of love.

Documentary is a process in which there is a lot of rational, but also intuitive, narration, and they are left empty for the viewer to think or reflect.

Our concern was to focus on the story, where he was going and what we were seeing from an emotional point of view.

For me, the story was inquiring into relationships. I would have gone even further in that direction. I had a mixture of fear and curiosity.

In Congo Mirador, for example, there is a lot of incest. It was extravagant to see how they fall in love with each other.

Then we inquire into power relations. For example, the relationship between the local leader and a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, in power), Tamara Villasmil, who told Natalie Sánchez, the village teacher, that she was going to get her out (of school) « For not being part of the party. » There was jealousy there because the teacher was younger and more beautiful.

I was not so interested in presenting Tamara and her contradictions. But my ex-husband Sepp (Brudermann, producer of the film), who has worked with Jewish issues and has a very interesting political background, wanted to show that weak moment that Tamara had when she met with the governor to ask for help and stop the sedimentation.

It was something that I had not paid attention to and that I left filed in a folder. But he took it and turned it over.

In the edition we saw these relationships, but we did not give to complete my ambition of a choral story with five narrative lines that were intertwined. So we are left with a more political aspect, how these characters who, adopting a partisan role, took away their pension or work and left them to nothing.

There are people who, due to political pressure, have been left in very unfortunate situations.

Courtesy «Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirado In 2012 Anabel Rodríguez Ríos made a short film about Congo Mirador,« El barril », inspired by some children he saw playing with oil barrels in the lake.

And how difficult is it to tell a story about Venezuela in such an isolated place taking into account the conditions of the country?

In logistics, for example, gasoline in Zulia has been rationed for years. The military, who are the ones who take care of the gas stations, give you up to a certain amount of gasoline. Everything above that amount is through the black market.

We had to frequently move to another city, Santa Bárbara del Zulia (40 kilometers inland) to provide ourselves with enough fuel. We also took the opportunity to buy drinking water.

Many of the things were also not paid for.

The projection of how much the film was going to cost was $ 400,000, which is more or less reasonable for a documentary. And what we got was $ 185,000.

What we did was assemble everything with various sources: the ones from Tribeca were among the first, Catapult Film Fund helped us at the beginning and at the end, and with what the IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) gave us we had enough to say: “Ok, now we are making a real film”. The process was to submit multiple requests, one of which came out in case.

Another problem we had to face was that of the armed groups.

John Márquez Natural sedimentation has made Congo Mirador an increasingly ghost town.

Armed groups? What type?

What they call « paracos », short for Colombian paramilitaries.

Some are guerrillas and many came to Venezuela from the pacification process in Colombia. The state is full of them, reflecting the state of neglect of the country.

Congo Mirador was taken over by these groups during the time we were there and the way they did it was by offering « security companies » with which they would protect your home and especially your boat, because the engine is very important.

We had to make important decisions, like living with them but not recording them. It was painful not to include him in the plot, but we had been filming for three years now and we didn’t want to put families at risk.

John Márquez’s « Once Upon a Time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador » is also a story about migration, poverty, corruption and political division.

It is striking that recently he said words like love, but now he says others like abandonment. How are these two concepts related?

The truth is that I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t think it will give us enough time to analyze what has brought us to this point as a country.

Of course there is the political issue, neglect and negligence. Venezuela went from being a rural country to a center for oil exploitation, an economy and a way of life that changed in just a few years. And from there we went on to import ready-made chocolate from Switzerland.

Why bother if we had oil? I don’t know, it’s my interpretation.

Venezuela has not been the same since they began filming in 2013. Nicolás Maduro was barely reaching the presidency and hyperinflation was something that still sounded far away. There was no talk of sanctions either. What changes did you see in the process and how did you notice it in the characters?

The scene is even now very different compared to two years ago, which is when we stopped recording.

Of the water towns there is practically only one left, Ologá, which is already more land than water. It was a whole culture of small towns in the southeast of the lake that has been disappearing.

There are characters that I have followed.

Natalie, the teacher, went into a crushing process. He was very enthusiastic about teaching and living. He did everything in a school that was falling apart, even administration and bureaucratic processes. She was my first contact because I was interested in telling a story with the children.

He was always there with a certain joy, but that joy faded over time until it turned into oppressed anger and finally resignation.

She lives today in Santa Bárbara del Zulia where she rents a room with her daughter, looking for whatever it takes to solve.

Her counterpart Tamara is more difficult. He is also in Santa Barbara in a ramshackle car business that uses them as taxis.

Where she falls she stops. But now she’s left alone, she has no company, which I think was her Achilles heel. Her business was with the fishermen and her need was to be surrounded by people.

You lived in England and now in Austria. As a migrant, do you think the world is looking back at Venezuela?

It is intermittent.

Here in Austria it is not a primary issue. I think we are one more topic among many.

The drama of Venezuela is not alien to the history of humanity and I do not think we have to stay in the « this is Venezuela and here we are crying. »

The documentary has a very powerful phrase: « My hope is to see you again. » Is it a message for Venezuelans?

It is a message for all migrants, for all those who hope to see something they loved again, regardless of nationality. I don’t believe in nationalisms, by the way.

One of my jobs here in Vienna is doing workshops with people from Syria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, people who come from wars.

You see those migrants saving hope, raising the money to return and buy that little house on the beach even if they are 80 years old.

It is a very human feeling that runs through everyone who has left something behind. Perhaps it has to do with where you spent your childhood that generates in you a feeling of belonging.

Now you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.

In Congo Mirador, the houses are leaving. They move away, carried by the water, with their furniture, their utensils and their occupants, and with them their stories.

It sounds like a story, but it is a true story. And it is concerned with « Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador », an emotional documentary that narrates the daily life of the inhabitants of this « town of water » that is disappearing.

It is located in western Venezuela, in the state of Zulia, in the south of Lake Maracaibo, where the oil that made the country famous and absurdly rich is extracted and exploited.

But that wealth is absent in the town.

John MárquezCongo Mirador is one of the « water towns » of Lake Maracaibo.

The houses are stilt houses, constructions in the water that are supported on pillars just a few meters above the surface. There are no roads or vehicles but canals and boats.

« It’s like being in one of those stories by (the American writer) William Faulkner, » says the director of the documentary, the Venezuelan Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, who already made a short film about the place in 2012, « El barril », inspired by some children he saw playing with oil barrels in the lake.

At Congo Mirador, water is everything: food, transportation, education. Children row to school and learn to fish.

It is also the escape route: when the family leaves, they mount the house on two boats.

The documentary is witness to that exodus. When filming began in 2013, there were about a thousand people living there. Today there are only five.

They escape a natural enemy « that eats the people » called sedimentation, which consists of the accumulation of earth at the bottom of the lake until there is hardly any space for water.

If water is what gives life to Congo Mirador, sedimentation is, then, its death.

But that’s not the only reason they’re leaving. There are also the lack of opportunities, poverty and lack of interest from the authorities.

And that’s when the documentary begins to unite the history of the people with more complex issues that encompass the Venezuela of the news: migration, poverty, corruption and political division.

Courtesy «Once upon a time in Venezuela, Comngo Minra

« The Venezuelan will feel reflected because we are in a similar situation to that of Congo Mirador, » says Rodríguez from Vienna, where he lives with his family and promotes the documentary, which has already been screened at festivals such as Sundance, Hot Docs, Miami Film Festival and Malaga.

The next date he has his sights on is February 9, when the preselection for the Oscars 2021 will take place.

«Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador» It is nominated by Venezuela in the categories of « Best International Film » and « Best Documentary Feature Film ».

“For us to stay would be like (making ourselves heard) a voice, a cry from a devastated country. It would elevate the Venezuelan in his spirit and in his sense of dignity, « says Rodríguez.

Next, the interview that he offered to BBC Mundo and in which he analyzes his work and how what he addresses is intertwined with a crisis that is difficult to explain and that lasts in time like the Venezuelan one.

What is it about « Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador » that makes it attractive enough to be shortlisted?

The film puts its finger on the sore at a necessary moment.

If it had been made at another historical moment, the resonance would be different. But it resonates because it goes hand in hand with the moment that Venezuelans are living.

It has overwhelmed me to see how so many Venezuelans from such different backgrounds are reflected in the history of Congo Mirador.

It is striking to see how populism has permeated all areas of the country and how corruption has been naturalized in our culture.

(And in that sense, the documentary) also talks about a process of destruction of democracy and the loss of the minimum conditions of existence in the people.

John Márquez In recent years, Congo Mirador has emptied itself of water and inhabitants.

It is a documentary that narrates but does not explain. He delves into the families of Congo Mirador, their poverty, the political division, how they leave town, but does not give figures on the migratory crisis in Venezuela, or poverty or violence. What then is the background of the film?

Is human. It touches an emotional chord that is difficult to explain, that of love.

Documentary is a process in which there is a lot of rational, but also intuitive, narration, and they are left empty for the viewer to think or reflect.

Our concern was to focus on the story, where he was going and what we were seeing from an emotional point of view.

For me, the story was inquiring into relationships. I would have gone even further in that direction. I had a mixture of fear and curiosity.

In Congo Mirador, for example, there is a lot of incest. It was extravagant to see how they fall in love with each other.

Then we inquire into power relations. For example, the relationship between the local leader and member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, in power), Tamara Villasmil, who told Natalie Sánchez, the village teacher, that she was going to get her out (of school) « For not being part of the party. » There was jealousy there because the teacher was younger and more beautiful.

I was not so interested in presenting Tamara and her contradictions. But my ex-husband Sepp (Brudermann, producer of the film), who has worked with Jewish issues and has a very interesting political background, wanted to show that weak moment that Tamara had when she met with the governor to ask for help and stop the sedimentation.

It was something that I had not paid attention to and that I left filed in a folder. But he took it and turned it over.

In the edition we saw these relationships, but we did not give to complete my ambition of a choral story with five narrative lines that were intertwined. So we are left with a more political aspect, how these characters who, adopting a partisan role, took away their pension or work and left them to nothing.

There are people who, due to political pressure, have been left in very unfortunate situations.

Courtesy «Once upon a time in Venezuela, Congo Mirado In 2012 Anabel Rodríguez Ríos made a short film about Congo Mirador,« El barril », inspired by some children he saw playing with oil barrels in the lake.

And how difficult is it to tell a story about Venezuela in such an isolated place taking into account the conditions of the country?

In logistics, for example, gasoline in Zulia has been rationed for years. The military, who are the ones who take care of the gas stations, give you up to a certain amount of gasoline. Everything above that amount is through the black market.

We had to frequently move to another city, Santa Bárbara del Zulia (40 kilometers inland) to provide ourselves with enough fuel. We also took the opportunity to buy drinking water.

Many of the things were also not paid for.

The projection of how much the film was going to cost was $ 400,000, which is more or less reasonable for a documentary. And what we got was $ 185,000.

What we did was assemble everything with various sources: the ones from Tribeca were among the first, Catapult Film Fund helped us at the beginning and at the end, and with what the IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) gave us we had enough to say: “Ok, now we are making a real film”. The process was to submit multiple requests, one of which came out in case.

Another problem we had to face was that of the armed groups.

John Márquez Natural sedimentation has made Congo Mirador an increasingly ghost town.

Armed groups? What type?

What they call « paracos », short for Colombian paramilitaries.

Some are guerrillas and many came to Venezuela from the pacification process in Colombia. The state is full of them, reflecting the state of neglect of the country.

Congo Mirador was taken over by these groups during the time we were there and the way they did it was by offering « security companies » with which they would protect your home and especially your boat, because the engine is very important.

We had to make important decisions, like living with them but not recording them. It was painful not to include him in the plot, but we had been filming for three years now and we didn’t want to put families at risk.

John Márquez’s « Once Upon a Time in Venezuela, Congo Mirador » is also a story about migration, poverty, corruption and political division.

It is striking that recently he said words like love, but now he says others like abandonment. How are these two concepts related?

The truth is that I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t think it will give us enough time to analyze what has brought us to this point as a country.

Of course there is the political issue, neglect and negligence. Venezuela went from being a rural country to a center for oil exploitation, an economy and a way of life that changed in just a few years. And from there we went on to import ready-made chocolate from Switzerland.

Why bother if we had oil? I don’t know, it’s my interpretation.

Venezuela has not been the same since they began filming in 2013. Nicolás Maduro was barely reaching the presidency and hyperinflation was something that still sounded far away. There was no talk of sanctions either. What changes did you see in the process and how did you notice it in the characters?

The scene is even now very different compared to two years ago, which is when we stopped recording.

Of the water towns there is practically only one left, Ologá, which is already more land than water. It was a whole culture of small towns in the southeast of the lake that has been disappearing.

There are characters that I have followed.

Natalie, the teacher, went into a crushing process. He was very enthusiastic about teaching and living. He did everything in a school that was falling apart, even administration and bureaucratic processes. She was my first contact because I was interested in telling a story with the children.

I was always there with a certain joy, but that joy faded over time until it turned into oppressed anger and finally resignation.

She lives today in Santa Bárbara del Zulia where she rents a room with her daughter, looking for whatever it takes to solve.

Her counterpart Tamara is more difficult. He is also in Santa Barbara in a ramshackle car business that uses them as taxis.

Where she falls she stops. But now she is alone, she has no company, which I think was her Achilles heel. Her business was with the fishermen and her need was to be surrounded by people.

You lived in England and now in Austria. As a migrant, do you think the world is looking back at Venezuela?

It is intermittent.

Here in Austria it is not a primary issue. I think we are one more topic among many.

The drama of Venezuela is not alien to the history of humanity and I do not think we have to stay in the « this is Venezuela and here we are crying. »

The documentary has a very powerful phrase: « My hope is to see you again. » Is it a message for Venezuelans?

It is a message for all migrants, for all those who hope to see something they loved again, regardless of nationality. I don’t believe in nationalisms, by the way.

One of my jobs here in Vienna is doing workshops with people from Syria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, people who come from wars.

You see those migrants saving hope, raising the money to return and buy that little house on the beach even if they are 80 years old.

It is a very human feeling that runs through everyone who has left something behind. Perhaps it has to do with where you spent your childhood that generates in you a feeling of belonging.

Now you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBlOELSWjFI
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