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South of the Border

South of the Border

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

OLIVER Stone continues to question America’s inability to question itself in South of the Border, a new documentary that examines the US media’s unfair demonization of so-called South American dictators such as Hugo Chavez.

Billed as a political road movie, the film basically follows Stone as he travels between Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina to talk to the various political leaders – Chavez, Nestor Kirchner, etc – to get their views on how they have banded together to form a new kind of popular democratic socialism in the continent.

In doing so, the leaders have antagonised America and fallen foul of its media for no longer reflecting American interests… a point that moved former President Bush to label Chavez as an enemy comparable to Saddam Hussein.

The documentary is therefore intercut with news-reel footage of CNN and Fox & Friends discussing the tyrannical politics of Chavez’s government and vilifying his every move (often comically), as well as interviews with US strategists and political experts that are designed to highlight American attempts to overthrow Chavez.

It’s a heady brew… eye-opening in the extreme, yet occasionally one-sided in the same way that many of Michael Moore’s documentaries are.

Stone appears to have adopted the attitude that a tough line of questioning isn’t needed, as Chavez and company should be given the voice to express themselves that American media outlets continue to refuse them.

Hence, Chavez is indulged and treated as an out and out hero… much in the same was as Fidel Castro has been in past documentaries.

If that’s a criticism, though, it’s a minor one given the bigger picture that Stone successfully creates. For while South of the Border leaves itself a little too easy to attack for Stone’s opponents, it remains a persuasive commentary on the situation in South America, which deserves more credit and examination than a lot of the West would have us believe.

By taking matters into their own hands and becoming self-supporting, democratically elected leaders such as Chavez and Kirchner have been able to turn around poverty, raise literacy and cut infant mortality rates. They have also given their countries back a sense of importance and identity.

Indeed, the biggest threat to their leadership continues to lie from outside their countries, given the support they continue to receive from a mostly enthusiastic electorate.

Stone will admit that South of the Border may not be as probing as it could have been, but he insists that it takes a wider view and affords a voice and an insight into a misunderstood and mis-represented political movement.

As such, there are lessons to be learned by those willing to pay attention. And for that, Stone should be applauded and encouraged to do more.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 102mins
UK DVD Release: October 25, 2010