A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Why was Chavez not our friend? It all comes down to oil, as it so often does these days. Venezuela is the fourth largest oil-producing nation in the world, and much of its oil comes to the United States. Its price has been guaranteed by the cooperation of the nation's ruling class. Chavez was elected primarily by the poor. He asked a simple question: Since the oil wells have always been nationalized and the oil belongs to the state, why do the profits flow directly to the richest, whitest 20 percent of the population, while being denied to the poorer, darker 80 percent? His plan was to distribute the profits equally among all Venezuelans.
This was, you may agree, a fair and obvious solution. But not to the 20 percent, of course. And not to other interested parties, including our friends the Saudis, whose people get poorer as the sheiks get richer. Charging Chavez with being a communist who wanted to bring Castroism to Venezuela, the rich and powerful staged a coup on April 12, 2002. Chavez was put under arrest and held on an island, and the millionaire businessman Pedro Carmona was sworn in as president. This was in violation of the constitution, but he blandly assured TV audiences he was in power because "of a mandate better than any referendum." There was no disagreement from Washington.
Incredibly, the coup failed. Hundreds of thousands of Chavez supporters surrounded the presidential palace, and the loyal presidential guard put the interlopers under arrest. Although the state-run Channel 8 was taken off the air and the private channels told lies and showed falsified news footage, Venezuelans learned from CNN and other cable channels that Chavez had not resigned and a coup had taken place; they demanded his return, and a few days later he arrived by helicopter at the presidential palace and resumed office.
These events are recounted in "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," a remarkable documentary by two Irish filmmakers that is playing in theaters on its way to HBO. It is remarkable because the filmmakers, Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain, had access to virtually everything that happened within the palace during the entire episode. They happened to be in Caracas to make a doc about Chavez, they had access to his cabinet meetings, they were inside the palace under siege, they faced a tense deadline after which it would be bombed, they stayed after Chavez gave himself up to prevent the bombing, they filmed the new government, and there are astonishing shots such as the one where Chavez's men, now back in power, go down to the basement to confront coup leaders who have been taken prisoner. Why no one on either side thought to question the presence of the TV crew is a mystery, but they got an inside look at the coup -- before, during and after -- that is unique in film history.