Oliver Stone hits the spin cycle with South of the Border

Oliver Stone and Hugo Chavez riff, ride around in open-top cars, and plot the downfall of America in South of the Border
Photo by Jose Ibanez

Gosh I love a good bite of propaganda. But maybe instead of "good" I should demur to “appealing”; it's probably a bit redundant to say that I don't brook with the smug-mongering on FOX, and even if it's couched in concern for the personal safety of Americans, the advisories that our government puts out on the countries of our brothers and sisters in South American scared the dickens out of my mom when I decided to do Carnaval in Colombia.

Point being, we're surrounded by propaganda. And I know Oliver Stone thinks so too. The fact appears to be the motivation behind his new movie South of the Border (opens Fri/16 in Bay area theaters), in which he travels down there to meet with Hugo Chavez and seven other leaders of what he believes to be the new Bolivarian movement. “I think that there has been so much unbalance [in American coverage of Latin America] that we are definitely a counter to that,” the director told the New York Times.

And like any good propaganda, the movie's raised a tidy amount of hullabaloo. Maria Conchita Alonso is raising a stink at Stone appearances, and Larry Rohter wrote a scathing piece on the film's inaccuracies for the NYT (see the film's rebuttal to his points here). Even that astute analyzer of Western Hemisphere policy, Perez Hilton "weighed in."

So why then did our friendly neighborhood center for Latino arts care to show such a piece of inflammatory rhetoric? I hollered at Jason Wallach, who was the evil mastermind behind a recent showing of South of the Border at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Jason, you crazy commie red, what gives?

“It's like this,” said Wallach, cheerfully disregarding my hate speak. “The cultural center for many years has taken it upon itself to be the outlet for news and critical analysis in Latin America, and helping the community stay up to date on development.” Wallach told me that the Latino activist community has taken issue with Washington's trade policies, which “are only there so that the U.S. can have access to new markets and have nothing to do with those countries. We never hear that in the U.S.”

Somewhere between Evo Morales supplying Oliver Stone with amphetamines and what happens next in this scene with Hugo and some kid's bike lies the genius of South of the Border. Photo by Jose Ibanez

Wallach noted that although MCCLA does not endorse everything said in the film, and that even though the left also has its concerns about Chavez (see in particular his sorry record on freedom of the press) “our job is to create a space for open debate.”

And so it came to be that the other night I turned off Hannity and Colmes for a moment, and had the pleasure of watching the Bay area premiere of the film at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, where it was screened for an assemblage of political activists and alternative press (meaning for once I was the most mainstream journalist in the room, ha!). 

It was a highly amenable audience. In one Stone-Chavez interview scene, the two discuss the aftermath of the 2002 attempted coup on the president (that many have found similar to CIA interventionist operations in the past). Chavez described his version of non-violence, the art of being “pacífico, pero armado” (peaceful, but armed). Seated behind me, a man breathed a sigh of relief. “Exacto,” he whispered. Like I said, every once in awhile we all need a shot of the propaganda that tastes good to us. 

South of the Border opens Fri/16 at the Sundance Kabuki (1881 Post, SF. (415) 929-4650, www.sundancecinemas.com) and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood (2966 College, Berk. (510) 433-9730, www.rialtocinemas.com) )