Our Brand is Crisis: Movie Review

Last night was a first for me: I went to a movie by myself at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday. (It was for an assignment though!) There were four other people in the theater if that tells you anything about the popularity of the political satire.

“Our Brand is Crisis” has its basis in a documentary that shares its name. Released in 2005, the documentary gives unparalleled access to how one American political consulting group built a 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign.

The movie isn’t phenomenal. Sandra Bullock pulls you in, but the rest of the film just moves along. I appreciated some of the context the movie provided though. (If you’ve seen the documentary, there are a handful of parallel scenes in the movie).

Jane Bodine, played by Sandra Bullock, has closed herself off from the world after her career as a well-known political strategist. She’s known as Calamity Jane in political circles, but at the beginning of the movie makes pottery high up in the mountains.

“I’m calm now,” she says.

But that changes as she dives into the world of Bolivian presidential campaigns—she’s in charge of directing the campaign of former president and losing candidate, Castillo. He’s 28 points behind the polls.

The political satire is based on the award-winning documentary with the same name. In the 2005 film, director Rachel Boynton takes us through the back doors and views of how an American political consulting group, Greenberg Carville Shrum, make a Latin American presidential campaign.

As presidential election nears closer we see different sides of Jane: a fierce competitor, an intelligent and ruthless strategist, but also someone who is equally as cynical as she is competitive.  So what exactly is she doing in Bolivia?

In part, it’s personal. And the tango between Jane and her rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thorton) is entertaining and provided the majority of the laughs. (She and a few friends she’s made launch a green, slimy ball of some plant at his hotel door).  As we get to know Jane more, we see a little bit more of the satire the film is trying to get across: even if you win a campaign, how successful can you be?

Through the laughs, there are snippets of the political reality that gripped Bolivia in 2002: indigenous groups protesting for better representation, an opposition to more privatization and a history of military coups. These snippets, though brief, made the movie much more believable (not all of Latin America is a hot, steamy jungle).

But the ending lacks in some of the charisma the movie had shown throughout. We don’t leave with a new lesson about politics or its inner workings: “It’s advertising,” Jane says. “And then you profit from it.”


A few lessons from a Colombian internship

I held copies of two death threats a journalist received. One scraggly-written note read, “Shut up, or we’ll shut you up.”

This threat didn’t happen at the height of the drug conflict here in Colombia nearly two decades ago, when killings of journalists were at their highest.

It happened in 2013. That September 11 as Edison Molina rode home from work on his motorcycle he was shot four times. He died later in the hospital.

I had read about the deaths of Colombian journalists. But holding something physical, seeing the same handwriting he saw made me shudder.  It made me think of the kind of risks journalists throughout the world face to speak up and tell the truth.

And it made me appreciate even more the kind of respect for freedom of the press and expression that exists in the United States.

To say the least, then, I’ve learned a lot in my five weeks here in Colombia.(Though it saddens me to think this journey is almost half-way done.) One of my favorite parts of work is listening to the conversations my co-workers have. It’s from those I gain more insight into the world of journalism here.

One conversation stands out to me. We sat around the lunch table at Crepes and Waffles after a workshop evaluating a freedom of press index  built by a sister organization.

Someone mentioned how threats against journalists were considered just another part of the job. Even government workers think so.

“Pa’ que se metio a ser periodista, si sabia que esto era parte del trabajo?” a co-worker recalled a policeman saying when he discussed a case with her. (“Why did you become a journalist if you knew that was part of the job?”)

We awkwardly chuckled.

“The parts of the job that should come with being a journalist are getting a flat tire, missing a flight or having technical difficulties,” another commented.

Maybe so.

But the greatest challenge will be changing people’s mentality about what’s “normal” for a jouranlist here. There’s a lot that would have to happen for that shift to take place.

Justice would mean justice. Cases wouldn’t take 10 or more years to reach some sort of conclusion. The Attorney General Office wouldn´t release a man who confessed to the torture and kidnapping of a journalist and then arrest him again.

I’m just starting to get bits and pieces of the whole picture of the journalistic environment present here. It’s wonderful to be learning all of this, and at the same time, a bit scary to know all of this is real, not just a read of a newspaper article.