2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by John Marquez

Anabel Rodríguez Ríos views the socioeconomic and political crisis of Venezuela through the microcosm of a dying village.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition

Venezuela/United Kingdom/Brazil/Austria

Sundance Program Description:

Once upon a time, the Venezuelan village of Congo Mirador, floating on stilts just inches above the deep Lake Maracaibo, was prosperous, alive with fishermen and poets. In recent years, it has decayed and disintegrated, rotting beneath pollution and neglect – a small but prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself.

At the center of the village’s existential fight for survival stand two female leaders – Mrs Tamara, the Chavista government coordinator of the village, and Natalie, a vocal teacher and opponent of Mrs Tamara and her state-approved practices of bribery and intimidation. As the contentious national elections approach, fear within the community extends beyond the partisan divide of Venezuelan politics; the villagers’ homes are quite literally vanishing into the sedimented water, displacing families with no means of surviving elsewhere.

Director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos’s striking and mournful ode to her country bears firsthand witness to the irreversible consequences of government corruption, while simultaneously capturing the resilient spirit of those most directly affected by Venezuela’s profound economic and political crises.

Some Background:


  • Anabel Rodríguez Ríos

    Spiraleye Productions’ Rodríguez Ríos is a Vienna-based Venezuelan filmmaker. Her previous work has included documentary and crossmedia shorts and series, often focusing on human rights and refugee topics. This is Rodríguez Ríos first full-length documentary feature.

Producer/Co-Executive Producer/Editor/Writer:

  • Sepp R Brudermann

    London-based Brudermann is an Austrian producer/director who has worked with Rodríguez Ríos on many of her previous projects through Spiraleye Productions.

Co-Producer/Editorial Consultant:

  • Arash T. Riahi

    Riahi produces through his Vienna-based Golden Girls Filmproduktion company. He previously participated in the 2003 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab, but this marks his first project to screen at Sundance.


  • Nancy Harrison

    This is also the first Sundance project for Spiraleye’s Harrison.

  • Joe Torres

    TRES Cinematografia’s Torres also makes his Sundance debut with this project.

  • Malu Carneiro Campos

    Carneiro Campos is CEO of production company Pacto Audiovisual and a founder of Televisión America Latina. This is also her first Sundance credit.

Co-Executive Producer:

  • Claudia Lepage

    This is also the first Sundance project for TRES Cinematografia’s Lepage.

Script Consultant:

  • Marianela Maldonado

    Maldonado was a collaborating writer on Sundance alumni fiction feature UNMADE BEDS and co-writer of the Oscar-winning animated short PETER & THE WOLF.

Editorial Consultants:

  • Ricardo Acosta
    Past Sundance docs:

    SEMBENE! (2015, editor)
    MARMATO (2014, editor)

  • Thomas Krag

    Krag previously cut Sundance alumni fiction feature OPEN HEARTS.

Why You Should Watch:
Focusing her film on the marginalized, forgotten, but still resilient people of Congo Mirador, Rodríguez Ríos reveals the human impact of Venezuela’s destabilization. The result is a well crafted, thoughtful elegy to her homeland.

More Info:
Sundance’s Meet the Artist Profile

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.