Chavez Opens Doors for Stone; THE Gulf between North and South America Is Food for Oliver Stone as SHEREEN LOW Discovers

Article excerpt

Byline: SHEREEN LOW

EVER since tackling subjects such as the Vietnam war and the assassination of President Kennedy, filmmaker Oliver Stone has courted controversy. And his latest documentary film South Of The Border is once more causing contention in the States.

It features interviews with seven presidents in South America and Cuba, including Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez who Stone says has been "99% demonised"by the US media.

"When it comes to South America, we hear negative things about these people, especially Chavez," he says.

"I went down there because I was curious, and I didn't really want to get involved because I knew it was going to be a hornet's nest."

He adds: "The film grew naturally. I went down and saw Hugo and he said, 'Don't believe what I'm saying about what's going down here, check it out for yourself'. And he arranged for me to travel and meet these presidents," he explains..

Besides Chavez, he also sat down with Bolivian President Evo Morales, Lula da Silva (Brazil), Cristina and Nestor Kirchner (Argentina), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Raul Castro (Cuba).

New Yorker Stone, who has made three films about Central and South America, first met Chavez in 2007, during a hostage negotiation on the border and an unlikely friendship grew. The Venezuelan President, who has been criticised for being "anti-American", accompanied the director to the film's world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September.

Stone says: "The man I met was not the man I'd read and heard about in the US media. He is always called a dictator even though he's been democratically elected twice. He's very popular with the majority in his country," he asserts.

"For the last 10 years, I think we've been asleep in the West. We haven't really known there's been a social transformation in these regions."

The 63-year-old adds: "I enjoyed the company of the presidents very much. …

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