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Koch Lorber presents
Our Brand Is Crisis (2005)

"This is a heartburn election."
- Jeremy Rosner, consultant, on the Bolivian presidential election

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 12, 2006

Stars: James Carville, Jeremy Rosner, Tad Devine, Bob Schrum, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada
Director: Rachel Boynton

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:27m:05s
Release Date: September 05, 2006
UPC: 741952309291
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BB B

DVD Review

Many U.S. exports have become much beloved the world over—Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Hollywood movies—but I don't think that we're going to be getting a whole lot of thank you's for inflicting our political consultants on other countries. This relentlessly understated and even-handed documentary is a cautionary tale for democracies the world over, and it's a reminder that the arrogance of power is a danger for Americans on both sides of the aisle.

The focus here is on the 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign, specifically on Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former president looking to regain the office. He is known universally as Goni, and he hires Greenburg Carville Schrum (GCS), a Washington political consulting firm whose named partners are most famous for their work for Democratic candidates in the U.S., particularly Bill Clinton. The GCS troops seek to deploy the trappings of contemporary American politics in this Bolivian campaign—will focus groups, attack ads and message honing play in La Paz as well as it does in Peoria?

That sort of theater of politics may depend on an economic baseline for the population, and on a deep-rooted tradition of democratic elections, neither of which are present in Bolivia. Democracy there is relatively new and obviously fragile; the bulk of the people seem to be in dire financial straits, and turn to their government for the most basic necessities of life, starting with a decent job at a decent wage. In Goni, though, the Americans have an aristocrat for a candidate, one who's got a thinly disguised parental condescension for his once and future constituents, and so only by splitting the opposition—a bit of Clintonian triangulation, in fact—will the consultants have a chance to put their man back in office.

The principal American on the scene is Jeremy Rosner, GCS's chief pollster, who comes off as earnest and not Machiavellian, but on some level deeply misguided, working from what seems like an imperial model completely inappropriate for an impoverished country. The consultants love to tout their bona fides—Tad Devine, another GCS soldier, can't shut up about his successes in Irish politics, for instance—and it reminds you of what's worst and most loathsome about the American electoral process, about the drive to get to 50% plus one, to vanquish your opponent, because winning is what matters. Of course winning matters—but a presidential election isn't a football game, and governance, the real work, is something that can't be bothered with here, bringing with it frightening and dangerous results.

You get a sense, as you watch the film, that Goni knows this—as he shoots TV commercials scripted by the Americans, you can feel him weighing the Faustian bargain he's making to get back the reins of power. Carville appears only sporadically, and he's treated like a rock star on his appearances in Bolivia; I'm not trying to pass myself off as an expert, but it's clear that Rosner and Carville have misunderstood something fundamental about Bolivian politics, and that farmers marching in the streets for constitutional reform in protests that threaten to turn violent can't be countered by push polling or a slick new 30-second spot.

On some level, it's a study of just what an echo chamber Washington is—if it happens outside the Beltway and defies D.C. conventional wisdom, GCS just doesn't understand it, whether it's in Bolivia or Connecticut. But when Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman, nobody got shot; it's tragic that we can't say the same about Goni's victory, in which he racked up a depressing plurality with 22% of the vote. Our crossfire culture needs fixing, but our crossfire is metaphorical—you can't help but think that we should tend to our own house before so sagely dispensing advice.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The documentary was shot on video and the contrast level is a little too high in the transfer, but given the location footage, it looks pretty fair here.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Some static throughout, but as with the picture, this seems to be due to the circumstances of the shoot.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Syrian Bride, Soundless, Nathalie…, Triple Agent, Divine Intervention, The Lina Wertmüller Collection
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Rachel Boynton
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from trailers and a link to the Koch Lorber website, the one notable extra is a commentary track from director Rachel Boynton, who talks about her fascination with the political process, and describes making the movie on the cheap. The quest for funding is a principal theme—"Movies are made by people who know wealthy people." Much like her film, she's restrained and fair, and discusses the challenge of trying to make an active feature out of a story that is frequently little more than a bunch of white guys sitting around a conference room.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A cautionary tale about the limits of American influence in the political sphere, this functions on some level as a companion piece to or evil twin of The War Room. Fascinating stuff on the innards of democracy, in a place where the stakes are high and the consequences dire.

 


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