‘Moments of Campaign’: Will the Real Rafael Correa Please Stand Up?

"Instantes de Campaña", del director ecuatoriano Tomás Astudillo, se estrenó en Ecuador a finales de mayo. (Festival EDOC)
Moments of Campaign, directed by Ecuadorian filmmaker Tomás Astudillo, premiered in Ecuador at the end of May 2015. (Festival EDOC)

EspañolIn an El País column, “Decalogue of Ibero-American Populism,” Enrique Krauze notes common traits that define the typical Latin-American populist. He points out, for example, that many of these leaders, including those in office right now, are highly charismatic, mobilize social groups, promote hatred among social classes, and twist the truth.

Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, aptly fits Krauze’s description, as demonstrated in Tomás Astudillo’s Instantes de Campaña (Moments of Campaign), albeit unwittingly. The Ecuadorian filmmaker’s 52-minute documentary, with an approximate budget of US$150,000, premiered at the 14th annual EDOC Film Festival on May 24 in Quito.

Astudillo’s goal was to present a more realistic portrait of Correa — the man behind the presidential sash — and worked as the director of photography for one of the president’s campaign promos during his 2013 reelection run. Astudillo then accompanied Correa for 42 days, as the president traveled the country on his campaign, and documented his official activities, interviews, and interactions with people and his staff.

Right from the start, the black-and-white movie depicts Correa as we already know him: always among the masses. His followers shower him with praise, as they rush towards him with banners of their smiling leader’s face.

When the president steps down from his vehicle — whether the presidential plane, a helicopter, or an SUV — children run to greet him, as he reciprocates with hugs and kisses, and holds some of them in his arms.

Moments of Campaign shows the Ecuadorian president where the great populists of the region set themselves apart: the stage. Amid music and confetti, Correa passionately speaks to the masses about the Citizen’s Revolution, and how important it is for the country to continue with this political project.

It is striking how Correa assumes the role of an orchestra conductor in everything he does. Astudillo himself mentioned it to the audience after the first, and only, screening of the film in the city of Guayaquil.

“It was very difficult to penetrate the character that I filmed with the camera, to reveal what lies beyond … Those [moments] I rescued were very brief, because these are moments when he stops working, and they are almost nonexistent in the day-to-day,” the director said.

An example of a situation that Astudillo described came during the filming of the promo in which Correa visits an indigenous family, and sits on their table for coffee. While recording, the film shows President Correa questioning the script, halting filming, and telling the indigenous couple that served as actors how they should act. Both of these characters benefited handsomely with a house provided by the government.

While shooting the commercial, the woman thanks Correa for giving them that house. “It was not me, I did it with the taxes paid by the rich,” the president replied as he laughed. Subsequently, the woman asks him for a house for her nine children.

“-Thanks for the house, taita Rafico
– I didn’t do it with my money; we did it with the money of the rich.”

After several attempts, the team finish the shooting for the propaganda piece, which concludes with the president saying, “I’m only passing through. The power is with you, the dignified people who have earned better days … All for the motherland; vote 35.”

Moreover, the film includes the testimony of two citizens who present their views on the candidate. They both speak of the successful administration President Correa had led so far, and how they identified with him. When questioned about why he chose to include this, Astudillo said he aimed to show how the people saw the president during the campaign, and how Correa’s discourse had an impact on them.

“One of the things that I noted during the campaign was the popular intoxication of this iconic image,” he said, “akin to a messiah who has come to save the world, and I thought it was important to contextualize this.”

Astudillo’s film, widely promoted in social networks, leaves the audience wanting to see more of those moments that it initially promised to show. While the director said he did not face any type of censorship, access to the “more human” Correa appeared to be almost impossible.

Instead, those few moments he did capture show how Rafael Correa campaigns, with his characteristic speech, full of expressions that appeal to the emotions. He pursues an ideal — which remains a mystery — called “the good life” (buen vivir).

Rather than a window into the personal side of a public figure, Moments of Campaign is a brief portrait of a Latin-American populist at work.

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