May 30, 2009
I've written before about the distance between the public's perceptions about a telenovela and what really happens in the show's creative process. In particular, there is considerable distance between what the audience knows about the writing process and what actually happens in the mind and soul of telenovela writers.
Today I bring a document that bridges the latter distance in a significant way. This document is a window in to the mind (and heart) of the writer who tackled the very difficult job of transforming the Venezuelan classic literary novel Doña Bárbara (Rómulo Gallegos) into telenovela format: Valentina Párraga. This Telemundo telenovela polarized its audience members, who were vocal in their positions regarding the main love story triangle of Doña Bárbara-Santos-Marisela.
After the telenovela's last episode was broadcast, Valentina wrote me a letter where she reflects on her journey writing Doña Bárbara. It's an honest analysis that illuminates the effort behind writing a telenovela and the ever-present tensions between the genre's commercial and creative requirements. Generously, Valentina has agreed that I share her letter with my blog readers. You can read it in Spanish or in English. And, then, let the conversation start in the comments section of this blog!
May 27, 2009
Today, two years ago Venezuelan network RCTV was closed. An arbitrary measure that was very telling of the government's character.
Beyond the terrible loss of a key part of our freedom of expression, the absence of RCTV from the open airwaves has produced an immense deformation in Venezuela's television industry:
- Because RCTV is now only on cable, its revenues have dropped dramatically and so has its level of production. Furthermore, the network is now almost exclusively devoted to producing remakes and adaptations of literary novels. These telenovela are of uneven quality regarding their scripts, casts and production values. This has the detrimental effect of impoverishing the Venezuelan telenovela industry.
- Obiously, both Televén and Venevisión now get higher shares. However, Televén doesn't really compete with Venevisión's high numbers. Hence, the latter wins almost every time slot in the programming grid.
- Without competition in the domestic market, Venevisión aims towards the international market.
- Regarding telenovelas, this means a new "norm" of 120 episodes, regardless of the storylines and their success (or lack thereof). (This is a bit of a dumb "norm" when we consider the high international sales of Doña Bárbara, which boasts 190 episodes). In this sense, there is no respect for the story, nor for the audience. Because, even though extending a telenovela can be disrespectful to the viewers, not giving it enough episodes to develop correctly also denotes lack of respect.
- The lack of competition in the domestic market ensues a lackadaisical attitude regarding the network's promotion and presentation of its products. I don't see nearly the same energy regarding press releases and interview opportunities that Venevisión used to show when competition with RCTV kept Venezuelan TV alive. Also, the network's public relations efforts have ceased to be proactive, for the most part.
- Regarding programming, it seems that it doesn't really matter if a telenovela is premiered at the wrong time of the year, as it happened with La Vida Entera, whose premiere coincided with regional elections and the professional baseball season. Nor does it seem to matter if transmission is irregular. After all, the local market is secured. (For 8 consecutive weeks, La Vida Entera did not air every day, as it should have).
- Because RCTV produces less and Venevisión has the local market won, the quality of the work goes down. So do the salaries of those who work in telenovelas and television.
- In this sense, it's actors who are the most affected. Their job sources are seriously diminished (the problem is even worse when we consider how the government is asphyxiating both the theater scene and the film industry) and the two networks offer salaries that, in general, do not reflect the experience, talent and dedication of most Venezuelan actors.
- Political polarization, which has invaded almost every aspect of Venezuelan life, also affects the viewing habits of some audience sectors that refuse to watch Venevisión because they believe the network "sold out" to the government when it decided to eliminate political discourse from its programming. This is as sad as those members of the public, who are pro-government, and who've decided not to watch RCTV on cable. These decisions give political ideology the reign over media consumption, when each individual should be completely free to decide what they like or not, and what they will consume. Without realizing it, they're playing the President's game of "divide and conquer."
- It doesn't help our television that we lose our critical skills because of our political position. As Venezuelans, we must require RCTV, Venevisión and Televén to give us the best possible television. We should not routinely excuse some media outlets because they've been shunned of the open airwaves and blindly indict others for still being there.
- Maybe the worst problem is the immense fear to be closed by the government that exists in the media outlets that are still on the air. This fear has been transformed into the worst and saddest kind of censorship: self-censorship. And even though the government has a media law to control media content, it's self-censorship which invasively and excessively regulates the content of a majority of private media outlets in Venezuela. Fear is never a good motivator.
May 24, 2009
Doña Bárbara is over. This is a telenovela that brought many "hits" to a post I wrote in this blog, (particularly to its version in English). This telenovela was very interesting to me for several reasons:
- It's the adaptation in long format(191 episodes) of a literary novel that doesn't have enough dramatic situations for such lenght. Hence, writer Valentina Párraga did magic in her immense effort to reign the storylines of her telenovela.
- The telenovela was particularly successful in the U.S. market as it gathered loyal fans who followed every episode.
- It was the perfect telenovela to watch at the same time I was studying Venezuelan telenovela La Vida Entera. Both provided fodder for constant comparisons among them, which were very productive for my research process. Both telenovelas included women in positions of power and authority in environments dominated and defined by men. Both telenovelas developed well a number of secondary plots.
- Doña Bárbara has high production values and is an excellent example of the "Telemundo model."
I wrote in this blog about the difference between the "Doña" that lives in my mind and the one personifed by actor Edith González. This discrepancy was always present. Telemundo's Doña never had the face of Gallegos' guaricha. However, Edith González's performance had such nuances and strenght that I learned to see her Doña Bárbara as a different woman, not Rómulo Gallegos', but one that had a life of her own and a particular magnetism. Even though she was never "my" Doña, Edith's Bárbara made me reflect on the issues of women and power, the definition of the feminine, and the place that betrayal, revenge and sensuality occupy in every telenovela. Edith González managed to project correctly each of her Doña's vital relationships; both the negative ones (her rapists), and the positive ones (Marisela, Eustaquia, el Brujeador y Juan Primito). I believed all of them and all of her.
In Doña Bárbara I was reassured once again that one of the most productive dramatic situations is: mother and daughter in love with the same man. There's always much to tell since it's really three complicated love stories in parallel: Santos-Bárbara, Santos-Marisela and Bárbara-Marisela.
The final episode used all the tools of the genre to remind us why we care about these characters and their resolutions and why THAT is the resolution: flashbacks, time ellipses, characters talking directly to the camera and special events, such as the wedding of Pajarote and Genoveva.
The final image was the one I expected: a bongo, the river Arauca heading to the infinite, and the Doña and her beloved dead. It's a Doña redeemed by a new, more luminous, life, and by her ultimate sacrifice for her daughter's happiness.
A fitting end for a telenovela.
May 21, 2009
I'm still in Caracas. Soon I'll return to Athens, GA and UGA, where I'll be able to write about my experiences during the last days of telenovela La Vida Entera.
My post today is short and related to a previous experience. Back in April I participated in the MIT Communications Forum, which was also the kickoff event of the Media in Transition Conference. The forum's topic was "Global Media" and the panelists have expertise in different and fascinating areas: Bollywood, films, media consumption in Malawi and telenovelas. Here you can read a summary of the session and some of the Q&A.
Here you can watch the video of the whole session. The format was short presentations (10-15 minutes) of each panelist, followed by Q&A. My presentation is the second and you can find it approximately on minute 14. However, I highly recommend watching the complete forum because every presentation and question is worthy of being watched.
May 10, 2009
I'm in Caracas documenting the final days of telenovela LA VIDA ENTERA. I have a lot to comment and share, but little time to do so. I must wait until the telenovela's final episode is broadcast so I can sit down to write and share pictures and videos behind the cameras of this final week.