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Review of South of the Border


“South of the Border” starts with a look at Venezuela in the late 20th century, a time when its political leaders acted to implement neoliberal policies in concert with the International Monetary Fund, or IMF.  In the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Venezuelans rioted as food and basic services became less and less affordable under these same policies.  The army was called in, and there were massacres of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people.
 
As a young army officer in Venezuela at the time, Hugo Chávez bristled at the brutal actions employed by his government to quell the unrest. In 1992 he led a coup attempt in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, which failed.  Chávez called for a revolution in the tradition of Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan who was a leading figure in the 19thcentury South American independence movement.   Following two years in prison, Chávez was released.  He went on to win public election to the presidency of Venezuela in 1998, still claiming the mantle of Simón Bolívar.  After more than a decade in power, and having survived a coup attempt himself in 2002, Hugo Chávez has led Venezuela to split from the neoliberal model and created ties to other left-leaning governments across Latin America, thereby earning the enmity of the US foreign policy establishment and media. 
 
The beginning of “South of the Border” intersperses archival footage from Venezuela with excerpts from the American media, primarily Fox News, which jarringly paint Chávez and his ilk as dictators.  The latter part of the movie is mostly devoted to up-close-and-personal interviews between Oliver Stone and left-leaning presidents and former presidents of Latin American countries. 
 
Hugo Chávez takes Stone to visit the small town in Venezuela where he grew up in a mud hut.  Stone chews coca leaves with Evo Morales, the first president of indigenous heritage in Bolivia.  He talks to the Kirchners in Argentina, who boldly repudiated some IMF debt at the beginning of the 21stcentury and led their country to an economic recovery.  He converses with Fernando Lugo, a priest from the liberation theology tradition who occupies the same presidential palace in Paraguay that housed the leader of a right-wing regime which tortured him.  He speaks to Lula de Silva, who rose through the autoworkers' union to lead the Workers' Party to electoral victory in Brazil.  Finally, Stone chats with Raúl Castro of Cuba, Fidel's brother, and Rafael Correa, Ecuador's relatively young president, who emphasizes the importance of closing a major US base there for the sovereignty of Ecuador.  After all, as Correa points out, would the US welcome an Ecuadoran military base in Miami?
 
“South of the Border” successfully mixes history and personal interviews to provide a fresh perspective on Latin America.  In doing so, the movie consciously calls the U.S. media and foreign policy figures to task for their misportrayal of the changes which are happening there, and for their roles in trying to maintain a policy of divide and conquer in the region. 
 
Oliver Stone's skills as a filmmaker and interviewer are evident- it is an engaging movie to watch- but there are shortcomings as well.  Stone is quite smitten by the charismatic, energetic Chávez, and he rather fawns on Chávez as they finish their interview together in Caracas.  Also, the movie would have benefited from more female input- the stylish Cristina Kirchner was the only woman interviewed, whom Stone rankled by asking about her shoes.  Beyond Stone and his  interview subjects, the film's supporting crew seems to have been predominantly men, both judging from the credits and from the film itself.  Taken with these grains of salt, the film is a good, eye-opening piece of work.
 
*Free, Public Screening at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
 Date and time: Friday, April 8, 2011 @ 7p.m.
 Location:  Room 320, Brown Center (white glass building)
MICA
1301 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Baltimore, MD  21217
 
We are fortunate that Mark Weisbrot, who with Tariq Ali co-wrote the script and who co-directs the Center for Economic and Policy Research in DC, will be on hand for the showing at MICA.  In addition to the great work he has done demonstrating the failures of neoliberal policies and the successes of internal development in Latin America, Weisbrot has published extensively on issues related to Haiti and the US.
 
About the film: Directed by Oliver Stone; written by Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot; directors of photography, Albert Maysles, Carlos Marcovich and Lucas Fuica; edited by Alexis Chávez and Elisa Bonora; music by Adam Peters; produced by Fernando Sulichin, Jose Ibanez and Rob Wilson; released by Cinema Libre Studio. In English, Spanish and Portuguese, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 18 min.  Official website: www.southoftheborderdoc.com
 

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