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Left tide

Samuel Grove reviews South of the Border, directed by Oliver Stone

July 25, 2010
3 min read

Aside from his Hollywood bio-pics, Oliver Stone has also compiled a respectable number of films on Latin American politics. After a film on El Salvador, and two documentaries on Cuba, Stone’s fourth venture into Latin American politics, South of the Border, was originally to be a documentary just about Venezuela and its president Hugo Chavez.

As indicated by the title, it quickly develops into a more general documentary about the tide of left-wing governments that has swept across Latin America in the last decade.

Stone also spends time (although perhaps not enough) elucidating the US government’s more favoured weapon of choice in the region – economic control via the International Monetary Fund. What the film could have added, but didn’t, is that the IMF’s stated proposals are as fraudulent as their purpose. What is marketed as free trade is in fact a mixture of liberalisation and protectionist policies designed in the interests of the framers.

Nonetheless it is the parochial interests of the US, juxtaposed with Chavez’s Bolivarian commitment to independence, that are emphasised repeatedly. Considerably less emphasis (perhaps with a view to not alienating a liberal US audience) is given to Chavez’s vocal denunciations of global capitalism in general and the initial steps the country is taking towards a socialist alternative. One cannot be too critical on this point.

Many other countries of the region are distancing themselves from Washington and it is the story of Latin American independence and integration – the ‘left tide’ sweeping the continent – that occupies Stone’s attention in the second half of the film. The most informative interview, aside from Chavez, is with Nestor Kirchner, the former president of Argentina. Kirchner discusses the 2005 Summit of the Americas conference at which Latin American countries were able to defeat the US’s economic plans for the region.

‘We acted collectively and in coordination,’ Kirchner explains. ‘It was one of the most important steps ever taken in the region.’ Sustained coordination and solidarity is essential if Latin America is to continue on the path towards genuine independence.

The film is not without its faults. To begin with it is rather too preoccupied with its presidential interviewees, and rather less interested in the social movements that brought them into power. (Others might see this as one of the film’s strengths, as there is no other film that has taken this approach, while there are many documentaries about the different social movements in Latin America.)

Stone’s efforts to bond with Paraguay’s president come across as patronising, and in the case of current Argentinian president Christina Kirchner downright sexist: ‘How many sets of shoes do you have?’ Nonetheless the film does a commendable job of shedding light on a dynamic process underway in Venezuela and in other Latin American countries – one that the western media systematically ignores or misrepresents.

‘The media will always try to criminalise the fight against neoliberalism, colonialism and imperialism,’ explains the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales. With South of the Border, Stone has provided a welcome antidote to Morales’ lament.

South of the Border is released in UK cinemas on Friday 30 July. southoftheborder.dogwoof.com

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