DVD: Our Brand is Crisis (2006)

May 22, 2013 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Weak/ DVD Extras: Good

Label: KOCH/ Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: September 19, 2006

Genre: Documentary

Synopsis: Fly-on-the-wall documentary chronicles the well-intentioned American spin doctors who helped a weak candidate win his second but disastrous term as Bolivia’s President in 2002.

Special Features: Audio commentary by director Rachel Boynton




Rachel Boynton’s prior experience as an associate producer – Well-Founded Fear (2000), People Like Us: Social Class in America (2001) – came in very handy when she took on the subject of an American company, GCS, and its key members who travel the globe branding candidates in foreign elections. GCS’s goal is simple – using focus groups, slick p.r. strategies, negative ad campaigns, and client branding, give a ‘friendly’ candidate a nudge in countries where U.S.-styled democracy may not have solid (or any) foundation, or the populace may be apathetic or too accustomed to bad governance. The eventual outcome in Bolivia in 2002, however, proved the American campaign model may not work when a country has a complex political history and two distinct social classes.

When the American-educated Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada wins his second term as President of Boliva, he becomes complacent, lazy, and pretty much destroys a golden opportunity for dialogue to mend a serious gap between the enraged indigenous population and the upper class elite.

Boynton’s camera was present through most of the agony, largely because Goni allowed her to remain close and film his entire election campaign. (More interesting, however, is the fact Goni was once a documentarian, so he may have been sympathetic to the filmmaker’s needs.)

GCS’s fascinating rep Jeremy Rosner flies back & forth to manage the initially a sagging electoral campaign, and associate James Carville is needle-dropped into Bolivia for a key strategy meeting and reinvigorate the team, and ensure everyone’s focused on getting their client re-elected, but as Goni’s arrogance emerges out, it becomes a challenge for viewers to maintain sympathy for the man, especially as mass protests flare up and demands for recognition and participation in law making are met with riot police.

Boynton doesn’t take sides – she pretty much lets her subjects reflect and react on their actions during the elections and after Goni’s disastrous second term (which ended in a flight to the U.S. where he remains in exile) – and like her recent Big Men [M] (2013), the film is tightly structured like a fictional political drama, but there are times when the film itself comes off as a bit too slick, and not unlike Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan’s On the Ropes (1999), she applies some sleight of hand in edited sequences using disparate footage, and layering foley to enhance the dramatic impact of both original and interpolated news footage. Her format and style are very effective in delivering a compelling story, but their slick nature give a sense one is being just slightly manipulated.

As a snapshot of the arrogance – in Goni, and the (mostly) well-intentioned spin doctors selling their branding skills to foreign clients in crisis – Boynton’s directorial debut is fair-minded, and she clearly sympathizes with the electorate who felt duped, dumped, and isolated from fairly uncaring candidates.

The transfer on KOCH’s DVD is a technical let-down: the audio is bizarrely in mono, flattening Marcelo Zarvos’ discretely affecting score, and heavy compression in low-light / high contrast scenes causes some components to drift. (Rosner’s head ‘floats’ in his body in the dimly lit focus group scenes.) The commentary is non-stop and highly informative, however.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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