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Amnesty forced to Withdraw Chavez documentary from screening amid threats of violence

by dave d Sunday, Nov. 23, 2003 at 10:26 AM

Amnesty International Vancouver was forced to withdraw a documentary on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, amid threats of violence.

Amnesty forced to Withdraw Chavez documentary from screening amid threats of violence

Last year two Irish filmmakers were eye witnesses to one of the most extraordinary events in recent central America. Donnacha O’Brin and Kim Bartlet had travelled to Venezuela to film an intimate portrait of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and found themselves centre stage when coup was staged by the military and powerful forces in the privately owned oil companies

Venezuela is the US’s fourth largest supplier of oil, and the largest outside the middle east, but despite this is a improvised nation, with a massive gulf between rich and poor. Chavez a former military officer, is a populist president, elected under a mandate to nationalise oil, a move which has enraged both the US government and the large conglomerates who own both the oil and the entirety of the private media in Venezuela.

Donnacha and Kim were inside the presidential place when the coup erupted in April 2002, and captured extraordinary scenes during and after the coup. They witnessed how the private TV stations actively aided and supported this military coup, and how events were manipulated and twisted on air. Most importantly the two filmmakers captured the scenes of how millions of ordinary citizens in Caracas rose up within days of the coup who fought, and restored the elected president, Hugo Chavez.

“The Revolution will not be televised” , the resulting documentary, has been shown around the world on television, and in festivals it has won numerous awards

including the prestigious, Banff and Greisens awards.

However the documentary has been subjected to fierce criticism, Wolfgang Chalk, A Venezuelan TV Producer, and Engineer, has spearhead a campaign backed by such figures as private Venezuelan televisions producers, Generals and the Caracas chief of Police. They’ve campaigned on the internet, with the petition calling for it’s banning. Harassing film festivals and TV stations planning on showing the film, calling on them to withdraw the film from screenings. Judges from one important documentary award even tell of receiving phone calls demanding they don’t choose this film in the days before votes were cast.

This group seized on a decision by Amnesty international in Vancouver; to withdraw the film from it’s forthcoming Human rights festival. Schalk’s, curiously well organised pressure group, took this as “proof” of their claims of that the documentary was “lying” and began another round of calls to festivals and TV stations, backed up with this argument.

However Amnesty’s reasons for the withdrawal have nothing to do with Schalk’s harassment and in their statement they say;

"In the final two weeks of October, we received from individuals and groups calls for the cancellation of the screening of the film. During this time we were also contacted by the chair and director of the Venezuelan section who requested us not to show the film. AI Venezuela believed the screening of the film created the perception of an association between Amnesty International and the views portrayed in the film. At the time of the showing, in the highly polarized climate in Venezuela, the perception of association created a security risk for AI Venezuela staff and members, described by the Director as "a real threat against our security and safety".

Amnesty’s reasons for withdrawal of the documentary had nothing to do with the content of the film but rather to do with the very real threat of violence against members of Amnesty International Venezuela, if they went ahead with the screening. Their reasons for removal are being mispresented by a group of people who wish to repress “The revolution will not be televised”.

The film is currently on a limited US cinema release, with distributors under pressure from powerful lobby groups demanding it’s withdrawal.

Donnacha and Kim, are angry about this stating “It would seem that whoever is behind the campaign was determined at all costs to get AI to act in this way, and then to "spin" the story to suit their own purposes.” These two filmmakers dedicated their prize at the recent ESB media awards to “media activists everywhere and the Indymedia Ireland collective”.

Read the statement from the filmmakers and the full text of the Amnesty statement here;

Further Background on Venezuela and the Film

Forthcoming Screenings

Article on the withdrawal of the film from the Vancouver film festival in the UK Guardian,3604,1090702,00.html

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