It's almost impossible to imagine a political documentary more exciting than The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain arrived in Venezuela expecting to lens a biography of democratically elected president Hugo Chavez. After collecting what looks like a mere smattering of sit-down interviews, they were instead thrust into the middle of a coup that saw Chavez temporarily deposed by forces opposed to his philosophy of government. To the filmmakers, the culprits seemed to be an ad hoc cabal consisting of the country's landed elite, its military, its privately owned media outlets ... and the CIA, which had good reason to fear Chavez's tightened control of Venezuelan oil resources and his unwillingness to roll over at the feet of "globalization."
The movie's pro-Chavez bias is unmistakable. Bartley and O'Briain present him as a man of principle who led an idealistic campaign to redistribute more fairly the country's wealth, and to uphold the national constitution as the voice of the people. In the process, they gloss over some of the thornier aspects of the leader's political personality: A fleeting mention of his admiration of Fidel Castro, for example, warrants deeper examination than it gets. But whatever slant the documentarians maintain, they back up with damning firsthand evidence. Footage of the coup itself, for example, appears to negate the opposition's claim that pro-Chavez forces fired indiscriminately on them. What we see are self-defensive measures on the part of the president's loyalists, who return sniper fire only when innocent, unarmed marchers are out of the way.
To say that the movie puts the viewer in the middle of the chaos is an understatement. We're not just in the same room with the desperate defenders of Chavez's government, but shoulder-to-shoulder with them as they fend off an insurrection that could leave them exiled at best, dead at worst. The unbroken access that Bartley and O'Briain enjoy is simply incredible, necessitating periodic self-reminders that what we're seeing is not a clever re-enactment, but history unfolding before our eyes. The end result is something all too rare these days: A thrilling, expertly assembled argument against regime change.