Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oliver Stone Film on Hugo Chavez Flops with Venezuelans

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oliver Stone Film on Hugo Chavez Flops with Venezuelans

Article excerpt

Oliver Stone's documentary 'South of the Border' grossed more in one weekend in the US than in nearly two weeks in Venezuela. Why has the sympathetic portrait of President Hugo Chavez fallen flat with Venezuelans?

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Oliver Stone's new documentary about Hugo Chavez and the rise of leftist South American leaders isn't that it's one-sided, shallow, or pro-Chavez.

It's that it flopped in President Chavez's native Venezuela, perhaps the one country where it was most expected to do well.

"South of the Border" opened in New York City on June 25, though it's been showing to South American audiences since late May. Chavez himself attended the premier in Venezuela on May 28.

Despite round-the-clock promotion on Venezuelan state television and government-subsidized screenings in the capital of Caracas, local moviegoers have largely stayed away. The film grossed only $18,601 on 20 screens in the 12 days after its June 4 debut, Variety magazine reported, citing Global Rentrak. Meanwhile, the Michael Jackson documentary "This Is It" grossed $2.1 million during its recent showing in Venezuela.

Mr. Stone, the Academy Award-winning director of "Platoon" and "Wall Street," has said his film aims to refute the demonization of Chavez and Latin America's other leftist leaders. It interviews Chavez at length, along with the heads of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Paraguay. Stone's past documentaries include "Comandante" and "Looking for Fidel," both about former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Stone sets the tone with clips from US television news reports calling Chavez a bigger threat to American security than Osama bin Laden. Refuting the angry, authoritarian Chavez portrayed in American media sound bites, the film shows a more human side to him and other leaders. Chavez at one point tours a corn processing plant, joking that it's a guise for producing WMDs. It's "a corn atomic bomb," he chuckles.

The film has grossed more than $40,000 in Argentina, $21,000 in Brazil, and more than $20,000 in one US theater in one weekend alone, according to Variety magazine.

Failure to address Chavez's faults

The film flopped in Venezuela, however, in part because of a local cultural tendency to reject excessive flattery, says Ricardo Sucre, a professor of political science at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. "The everyday Joe doesn't like that kissing up. In the Venezuelan context, excessive flattery generates rejection," he says.

Moreover, adds Professor Sucre, most Venezuelans see through the film's superficial portrait of their country. "It may be a fantastic story abroad but internally that story doesn't fit the Venezuelan reality," he says.

Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Venezuela's University of the East, says Stone humanizes Chavez and other heads of state but falls short on context and background. …

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