Filmmaking team's second look at country studies workers' views of change

The movie that opens the film portion of Labor Fest '06, "Five Factories -- Workers Control in Venezuela," has an unusual pedigree: It's a documentary about labor issues in Venezuela made by a political analyst and a visual artist.
Both talents are on display here: The movie is artfully shot and poses important questions about the position of labor in capitalist society. This isn't the first time visual artist Oliver Ressler and analyst Dario Azzellini have explored the labor market in Venezuela. In 2004, they made "Venezuela From Below," an account of the radical changes in the country's economic model after the election of President Hugo Chavez in 1998. Chavez's anti-neo-liberal stance has not made him many friends in the West, but with the support of his people, he has resisted international boycotts and two coup attempts. "Venezuela From Below" brings the workers' perspective to the forefront of the debate. Ressler and Azzellini spoke to oil company workers, members of the revolutionary movement Tupamaro and founders of a women's bank project, among others, to get a sense of how the socialist policies of the leftist Chavez were affecting people's lives.
Since then, rising oil prices have added even more money to Venezuela's oil-drenched economy. In "Five Factories -- Workers' Control in Venezuela," the issues are parsed further, as Ressler and Azzellini go into five factories -- a textile company, an aluminum plant, a tomato processing factory, a cocoa factory and a paper factory -- in different regions and talk to the workers.
They find that many workers prefer the collective experience. As coning machine operator Carmen Ortiz says, "Working collectively is much better than working for another. Working for another is like being a slave to that other." To ground viewers in the issues at stake, the filmmakers take pains to explain the intricacies of the labor market and lay out the terms of the debate: Models of workers' control, organizational tactics, the hardships of self-organization versus the corporate structure and the production processes themselves are explicated.
The question at the heart of all these interviews is voiced by Carlos Lanz, president of Alcasa, the second-largest aluminum factory in Venezuela. He asks, "How does a company push toward socialism within a capitalist framework?" With the Venezuelan government pulling the business world into a collectivist model, and using oil money for broad social programs, the transitions many companies have to go through are not easy, and the compromise solutions are far from perfect.
"Five Factories," though, digs deep into these issues to find how the laborers feel about these questions.
7 p.m. today. $5. Check Web site for details on other film offerings of the Labor Fest '06. Roxie Film Center, 3117 16th St., S.F. (415) 863-1087.