Thursday, September 24, 2009



Oliver Stone's
South of the Border is a movie that should be widely seen. It is informative, even eye-opening; it's entertaining, interesting, and very well made.

Here is a gallery of pictures from the Premiere:

Evo Morales(L) Oliver Stone (C) and Hugo Chavez (R)
Arriving at the Premiere of South of the Border
Photo by Eric Roffman
Evo Morales
President of Bolivia
At the Premiere of South of the Border
Photo by Eric Roffman
Hugo Chavez
President of Venezuela
At the Premiere, talking with the Press
Photo by Eric Roffman
Danny Glover
Co-Producer of Bamako
At the Premiere, with the Press
Photo by Eric Roffman
Director Oliver Stone
With Hugo Chavez looking on
Photo by Eric Roffman

The film is not fair and balanced. Rather, it is designed to balance a great deal of unfair and unbalanced reporting on Hugo Chavez and other South American leaders.

Now I have to stop for a moment and mention who these leaders are. Too few people know. That is perhaps the best reason of all to see this film. Americans are woefully ignorant about the rest of the world. Whoops. I said "Americans." We are all of us Americans: North Americans, Central Americans, South Americans. We actually need a word for us residents of the US.

In a comedy piece, Theodore Bikel once described the findings of archeologists digging our remains. Finding the words, "We, the people" and many references to "US" among the ruins, these future archeologists called us the "Weans" (pronounced WEunz).

So, for the benefit of us Weans (at least the non-South-American-aware among us) we have...

Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay
Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador
Lula Da Silva, President of Brazil
Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina
Néstor Kirchner, former President of Argentina
Raul Castro, President of Cuba

(Note -- anyone who checks and reads these links will already be among the most highly South-American-knowledgeable Weans.)

These are all popular and populist leaders. As pointed out in the film, unlike an earlier set of rulers in South America, for the most part these leaders "look like the people they represent."

South of the Border is (the fact this title has been used for Disney and other films is -- perhaps intentionally -- ironic) a record of a journey Oliver Stone made through these countries in South America, chatting with the leaders. It's extremely well photographed by a team headed by the justly celebrated Albert Maysles.

In a way, this is a beautifully photographed home movie, of a journey to visit some really interesting people.

In counterpoint to the (favorably slanted) conversations with the leaders and a recounting of the history of these countries, Stone gives us a view of the way these leaders are demonized in the media. The media, however, are represented almost entirely by the entirely over-the-top Fox News. In context, these bits are hard to be taken seriously. It's a milder form of The Daily Show presenting Fox News bits.

So a totally serious, balanced study of these leaders, their policies, and their relations with the US is still needed. This film makes a compelling case for how important such a study would be.

Also touched on is the extremely important issue of the proper role of capitalism, socialism, globalization, imperialism, free trade, the IMF and democracy. I say "issue" rather than "issues" because it appears that all these things and more are intimately interconnected.

(Another film, Bamako, by Abderrahmane Sissako and co-produced by Danny Glover addresses very similar problems in Africa. Danny Glover was a guest at this screening, and chatted with the Press, in eloquent terms, about the importance of these issues to ordinary people in developing countries.)

Other problems these leaders are dealing with -- the legacy of previous governments and foreign economic interests -- are: corruption, political instability, poverty, unbalanced economies, health and the skewed distribution of wealth.

There is one incredible, shocking moment in the film when Néstor Kirchner, former President of Argentina claims to quote President Bush saying to him in a discussion of the economy to the effect that: the only way for a country to achieve economic prosperity is through war. (As described by Kirchner, Bush's statement goes way beyond the frequently made assertion that the US did not pull out of the depression until WW 2.) Stone asked him in the film to re-affirm this quote, and Kirchner did. But Stone apparently did not press this issue any further. Coming out of the men's room after the screening and Q&A, I managed to ask Oliver Stone if there was more to the story than is in the film, and he said: it is "on the record," but he had no more about this. (Note-- Journalists, critics, and even politicians should not underestimate the importance of rest rooms as a place to gather information.) If true and taken in context, this quote would seem to have very dark implications for the foundation of Bush's policies.

In the film, with the press, and in the Q & A, Chavez was extremely polite and friendly, expressed great warmth for America, and seems exceptionally intelligent. Here is a clip from the Q&A in which Chavez discusses democracy and progress in Venezuela.

While I was preparing this story, I listened to Chavez being interviewed by Larry King, where he was less sympathetic.

Chavez is trying to create a form of native, Venzuelan "socialism" in contrast to the kind of capitalism he has observed which -- in its resemblance on steroids to the ugliest union busting, assasinations, monopolies, and wicked business cycles of Wean capitalism -- has served native populations in South America very badly.

Evo Morales, who rose to power as a union leader, seems a much more gentle leader. In the Q & A, he gave an impassioned statement about the importance of protecting "Mother Earth:" Earth will survive without people. People can not survive without the Earth. The rights of the Earth must take precedence over the "rights" of people and companies and governments whose policies and actions could destroy the Earth for all of us.

Chavez seems genuinely interested in good relations with the United States. He is cultured, courageous, very charismatic, and passionate about baseball.

All the leaders interviewed in the film seem to be genuinely interested in the welfare of their people.

To cultivate a relationship with Chavez, it might be a good idea for...

1-- a sympathetic figure to take him on a visit to Israel to see the threat that people there face from incoming rockets and hostile neighbors;

2-- to give him a summer sabbatical at Harvard, Yale or Princeton to learn diplomatic rhetoric. (His statement at the podium of the UN that he could still sense the lingering smell of Sulphur after Bush's visit comes across in the film as more akin to a Daily Show bit than true ferocity, but it is profoundly undiplomatic rhetoric);
and most of all

3-- invite him to throw out the first pitch at the World Series, especially if it is in Yankee Stadium.

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