La Clase in its social and political context
La clase was directed by José Antonio Varela and produced by Villa del Cine Foundation, which is the Venezuelan state’s film production unit created in June 2006 and currently integrated in the Audiovisual and Cinema Platform of the Ministry of Popular Power for Culture. Since becoming President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez has put forward cultural policies in accordance with his 21st century revolutionary and socialist program. La clase is thus an outcome of the efforts of the Bolivarian Government to integrate cinema and community interests.In 2007, the year this film was released, Villa del Cine also produced two documentary features: Venezuela Petroleum Company analyzes the various roles played by the omnipresent national petroleum company (PDVSA) in Venezuela’s economy and society from neocolonial to revolutionary settings; and Víctimas de la democracia deals with the hidden political persecution of opponents during democratic periods due to the Cold War. 2007 also witnessed the release of a historical fiction about the life of a hero of the independence movement, Miranda regresa (Miranda Returns). Such historical fictions characterize an entertainment genre found to be relevant in contemporary Venezuelan filmmaking in connection with the current socio-political situation.
As Steve Ellner rightly points out, “President Chávez’s condemnation of traditional political historiography as ‘bourgeois history’ based on an ‘imported’ model … and his refusal to vilify Pérez Jiménez have encouraged his followers and even many outside of his movement to rethink the nation’s past.”
The story of La clase is set at an important time, not only in Venezuelan history but also in the history of the Venezuelan class struggle. The violent clashes seen at the end of the movie correspond to the Caracazo, the popular movement mentioned above that started in Caracas on February 27, 1989, spread quickly throughout the whole country, and ended a week later leaving between 277 and more than 2,000 dead (depending on the sources) and many wounded. The mass demonstrations and looting erupted as a protest against the drastic implementation of neoliberal measures recommended by the IMF to the recently re-elected President Carlos Andrés Pérez, who had promised a very different program in the elections that had given him the victory only a few months earlier. His reform package included privatization of major state companies and decentralization, measures which led to a sharp increase in prices, including hikes of more than 30% in public transportation fares. As Steve Ellner indicates, “the events of February 27 came to constitute a powerful historical memory in the barrios of major cities and would be given prominence by the Chávez government”.
This fight against poverty waged in the cultural front runs parallel to other efforts of the Chávez administration to fight inequality. According to the 2009 CEPR report on the Chávez administration, “During the current economic expansion, he poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent. … Inequality, as measured by the Gini index, has also fallen substantially. The index has fallen to 41 in 2008, from 48.1 in 2003 and 47 in 1999. This represents a large reduction in inequality.”
It is significant then that Villa del Cine begins its work with productions that deal with historical figures—Bolívar eterno, ciudadano de la libertad, 2006; Miranda regresa, 2007—and events (La clase, 2007). In addition, by 2007, Villa del Cine had created numerous shorts, newsreels and short documentaries for television, some of which are equally concerned with revising history and reconstructing Latin American national identities.
Although these early productions are explicitly part of the Bolivarian Government cultural policies, in more recent years I have also perceived a tendency to diversify film production. Thus Villa del Cine offers support to veteran filmmakers like Román Chalbaud and Luis Alberto Lamata while it enables young filmmakers like Efterpi Charalambidis or Hernán Jabes to make their first projects. The sharp increase in the number of features produced by Villa del Cine over the last years is unquestionable proof that this form of Government support has stimulated media production in the country in terms of the number and variety of films, and it has proven a valuable alternative to the Hollywood and neoliberal models of production.
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA
Entry filed under: DOCUMENTALS, DOCUMENTARIES, INDUSTRY NEWS, LATIN AMERICAN FILM, VENEZUELA CINEMA. Tags: Audiovisual and Cinema Platform of the Ministry of Popular Power for Culture, illa del Cine Foundation, José Antonio Varela, La clase, Víctimas de la democracia, Venezuela Petroleum Company.