Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

Insights | Impact

In this bittersweet, lyrical doc, Anabel Rodríguez Ríos depicts the final years of a most unusual village. At the film’s beginning, Congo Mirador is already on its last legs - quite literally, as most of its buildings are built on stilts above Lake Maracaibo. Alarm over the dangerous buildup of sediment is increasing, but there’s still time for tween pageants, motorboat ballad-crooning, holy celebrations and much more, all captured beautifully by Ríos and cinematographer John Márquez.

The director is clearly in love with the village and its inhabitants, and her record of their lives is both humorous and graceful. Venezuelan politics comes in for more stern treatment; the film depicts corruption, neglect and more, at the local level and beyond. Hers is less an angry film than a wistful one, however - it exists for the historical record, and for our pleasure.

"A powerful image of forced exile… the embodiment of an entire nation. Ríos captures the village’s decline with a fair amount of affection and a keen eye for natural beauty." - Jordan Mintzer, Hollywood Reporter

The Crossing THUMBNAIL

Preceded By: The Crossing

Director: Juliana Penaranda-Loftus / USA, 2020, 40 min.

Right on the northeastern border of Venezuela, the small Colombian town of Cúcuta has become a bottleneck for refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis and political oppression. Documentarian Juliana Penaranda-Loftus, born and raised in Cúcuta, returns to her hometown to film a historic attempt to deliver aid across the border. The Venezuelan refugees, exiles and activists she meets give voice to a painful situation. This 40-minute film is the ideal companion piece to Once Upon a Time in Venezuela. more...

Director Icon Director
Anabel Rodríguez Ríos
Executive Producer Claudia Lepage
Producer Sepp R. Brudermann
Screenwriter Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, Sepp R. Brudermann
Cinematographer John Márquez
Editor Sepp R. Brudermann
Music Nascuy Linares
Production Company Sancocho Público A.C., Spiraleye Productions Ltd., Golden Girls Film, Pacto Films, Tres Cinematografía
Source Rise And Shine World Sales
Venezuela/UK/Austria/Brazil 2020 99 min. Spanish with English subtitles
Community Media Partners
Columbia Journal


Please note that VIFF 2020 online films can be viewed in British Columbia only.

Rodriguez Rios, Anabel headshot


Venezuelan filmmaker, Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, is based in Vienna, Austria. She gained a Masters in Filmmaking at the London Film School. Her short The Barrel, part of the Why Poverty series, went to over 50 International Film Festivals, including HotDocs, IDFA and was awarded with a TFI Latin Grant. Once Upon a Time in Venezuela is her first feature documentary.