Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The back cover of the South of the Border DVD reads "Oliver Stone reports. You Decide." The word "reports" implies that it is an objective look, free of opinion...so to say that Stone is "reporting" in his newest film is like saying Michael Moore or Bill O'Reilly "report" objective news. But "South of the Border", a documentary that follows Stone to several South American countries for chats with their regional leaders, is a compelling although slanted take on a topic not many Americans are aware of.
The Documentary. The movie is basically Oliver Stone's view of American media and our government's failed foreign policy mainly during the George W. Bush years. It centers on Hugo Chavez, the current elected President of Venezuela, who has been all but demonized by mainstream American & European media, politicians, and government officials. Mixed in are real news clips from private media outlets such as Fox News and CNN, where we hear analysts comparing Chavez to Hitler, and painting him a figure that poses "a larger threat to the U.S. than al-Qaeda". Now I won't go into detail here on the ins and outs of Hugo Chavez (that's what the documentary is for!), other than to say that he is definitely one of the more intriguing modern-day world leaders. We see in the film the way he is attacked by our media, and then we see him up close and personal as Oliver Stone follows his every move, in and around his homeland of Venezuela.
The movie sheds light on a lot of occurences in South American that have happened over the past 20 years, many of which the common person isn't aware of. Remember the Venezuelan coup of 1992? Me neither. How about the economic collapse of Beunos Aires? Stone points the finger mightily in the direction of the "privatized" American media and their inability to cover stories that matter south of the border. He travels from country to country for sit-down interviews with Chavez of Venezuela, but also the leaders of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador, and even Cuba. The film is heavy in political mumbo-jumbo, and I was happy to have it on DVD to rewind and catch up...it is a fast moving documentary in terms of facts being thrown at you, and to know what each person is talking about at all times is sometimes a challenge.
Ultimately, the film itself is a very one-sided and sympathetic take on the "new" South American revolution, with Hugo Chavez at it's core. To me, it's OK for films to show one side of a story...especially a film that is trying to show the other side of a lopsided viewpoint presented by American media for the past few decades. We see a different view of Hugo Chavez, and we learn a little bit about the politics of South America, a region of the world that, quite frankly, does not garner much attention up here in the states. Though parts of the film get bogged down with some wordy economic and political discussions, it is definitely intriguing and worth watching.
The DVD Extras. Now here is a movie worth buying on DVD...With over 90 minutes of bonus material included on the DVD, the extras greatly compliment the actual documentary. In fact, the most riveting and intriguing stuff is found in these extras, namely an extended sit-down interview between Stone and Chavez, and a behind-the-scenes docu-feature chronicling Stone's promotional tour for the movie. Both the interview and the docu-feature take place AFTER the movie's release, when Stone revisits the countries he originally visited in the film. In the interview, we see Stone really asking the tough questions to Chavez, who is much more defensive and defiant...from the film, you would think that Chavez is a big teddy bear, who is often seen buddy-buddying with Stone. Here, there are funny moments where we see they have a true frienship, but Stone basically confronts Chavez on all of the criticisms we hear about in the movie, but that aren't addressed. It helps paint Chavez in a broader stroke, and it shows us that Stone is not some hippy rebel out to create controversy for controversy's sake.
The promotional tour now, is worth it's weight in bolivares...you know the currency of Venezuela..Here, we see Stone's remarkable tour back to promote the movie, mixed in with behind-the-scene footage and press interviews. Here, he answers plainly the question, "why were no opposition leaders (to Chavez) interviewed in the film?" His reply? Chavez has been so villainized by the U.S. that we, "Well, we have to start somewhere." At another point, a student asks him the very vital question: "Why would someone from America be interested in telling the world about issues from Latin America?" It's a simple question, but one that made me thankful that we have brave filmmakers like Oliver Stone. His storytelling is flawed at times, and his viewpoint skewed, but bravo to him for attempting to raise social awareness on a part of the world all but forgotten by mass media.
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