Bolivian Rhapsody

Selling democracy: 'Our Brand Is Crisis'
Koch Lorber

The 1993 documentary The War Room went behind the scenes of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and provided unprecedented insight into the winning strategies conceived by Louisiana-born political consultant James Carville. Fast-forward a decade to Our Brand Is Crisis, a new doc that shows Carville is still making a healthy living by helping politicians to win elections. This time he's working on an international scale--in Bolivia, to be exact--during Gonzales (Goni) Sanchez de Lozada's campaign to lead the struggling Latin American country.

Trouble is, Goni, who was president during the 1990s, isn't popular, and his opponents, including cocoa leaf grower and union leader Evo Morales (who recently won election), are providing stiff competition. Carville's consulting firm gives Goni the best team of strategists that money can buy, including Jeremy Rosner and Tad Devine; through focus groups, attack advertising, and aggressive branding and marketing, the tireless spin doctors try to sell a tarnished candidate to a reluctant public.

Director Rachel Boynton gains access to many of the backstage sessions in which consultants try to "brand" Goni and reshape his policies for public consumption. It's easy to feel shame at the almost cynical approach taken by the consultants--Rosner in particular--as they try to manipulate voter impressions of the arrogant capitalist Goni while the campesinos are marching on the capital city to protest their extreme poverty. Most devastating, however, is the bloody aftermath of the election, and the impact of unkept promises on the collective psyche of people who already feel betrayed by their leaders. By this point, the shaken consultants must try to salvage the situation, but, unlike the Bolivians, they can leave the country any time, with large paychecks in hand.

Our Brand Is Crisis (which starts Friday at the Bell) is a stirring doc about the "democratic" process patented in the United States and now exported worldwide--exported whether others want it or not.

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