Robert Greenwald interviews the controversial director June 26, 2010 | [print_link]
By Robert Greenwald, Brave New Conversations
Critically-acclaimed Hollywood Director Oliver Stone dropped by our studio for a Brave New Conversation, where I spoke with him about his latest documentary South of the Border, scheduled to be released in more than 30 countries this month. South of the Border begins by exploring the role that the corporate-owned mainstream media in the U.S. and Venezuela have played in shaping Americans’ perspectives on South America, beginning with clips of the attempted coup on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. In the Brave New Conversation, Stone describes the South American press:
The press [in South America] is totally owned privately, and most of that press, unlike most Americans realize, is anti-reform. Anybody who comes along and wants to change anything is castigated in the press. Chavez is one example: They kill him every day. The press is vibrant, it’s oppositional, calls for his resignation, calls him a madman, and sometimes calls for an overthrow of the government. This is going on everyday and in America they say there’s censorship. We’re crazy; if we had a press like that, it’d be Fox News on steroids.
South of the Border offers a unique perspective on Latin America, one of a quiet revolution taking place where democratically-elected presidents have braved the strong arm of the US and its policies throughout the region by daring to oppose money for the “War on Drugs” and structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund, making history with their efforts. Oliver Stone interviews Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and her husband, ex-President Nestor Kirchner, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Castro of Cuba, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela: Leaders who are committed and unified in strengthening their countries’ economic engine without the interference from the US.
To give you a glimpse of what the US has done in Latin America, Stone explains the following:
The only two allies we have left are Peru and Colombia — both bad guys, because we’ve given Colombia 6 billion dollars to fight this so-called drug war. The paramilitaries in Colombia have killed close to maybe 30 thousand — we don’t even know — maybe 120,000, maybe even 200,000 people have vanished in Colombia over the last 20 years. It’s a horrible war.
South of the Border was an eye-opening experience, and I hope people will see it. I thought I was well-informed about South America before the film, but I came away with a whole new perspective. This is what is so wonderful about films that make a difference: you go in with one set of eyes and perceptions and come out thinking and feeling entirely different.
Robert Greenwald is the director/producer of “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” as well as many other films. He is a board member of the Independent Media Institute, AlterNet’s parent organization.
PHOTO: Oliver Stone
The New York Times attacks Oliver Stone’s ‘South of the Border’—As usual, the “Grey Lady” doesn’t use a machete where the poisoned stiletto or the slow garroting method will do…as evidenced in this piece by Rohter the subtle lies and distortions are legion, and it would take a separate article just to point them out.
Oliver Stone’s Latin America
By LARRY ROHTER
Published: June 25, 2010
In feature films about John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush, Oliver Stone gave free rein to his imagination and was often criticized for doing so. Now, in “South of the Border,” which opened on Friday, he has turned to Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s controversial populist president, and his reformist allies in South America. Oliver Stone called news coverage of South America unbalanced and said his film “South of the Border” was “definitely a counter to that.”
Movie Review | ‘South of the Border’: Oliver Stone, Tour Guide (June 25, 2010)
Mr. Stone suggests that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (right >>), is heading a continentwide “Bolivarian revolution.”
“People who are often demonized, like Nixon and Bush and Chávez and Castro, fascinate me,” Mr. Stone said in an interview this week during a tour to promote the film, which portrays Mr. Chávez as a benevolent, generous, tolerant and courageous leader who has been unjustly maligned. “It’s a recurring thing,” he added, that may suggest “a psychological attachment to the underdog” on his part.
Unlike his movies about American presidents, the 78-minute “South of the Border” is meant to be a documentary, and therefore to be held to different standards. But it is plagued by the same issues of accuracy that critics have raised about his movies, dating back to “JFK.” Taken together, the mistakes, misstatements and missing details could undermine Mr. Stone’s glowing portrait of Mr. Chávez.
Mr. Stone’s problems in the film begin early on, with his account of Mr. Chávez’s rise. As “South of the Border” portrays it, Mr. Chávez’s main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was “a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe” named Irene Sáez, and thus “the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast” election.
But Mr. Chávez’s main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.
When this and several other discrepancies were pointed out to Mr. Stone in the interview, his attitudes varied. “I’m sorry about that, and I apologize,” he said about the 1998 election. But he also complained of “nitpicking” and “splitting hairs” and said that it was not his intention to make either a program for C-Span or engage in what he called “a cruel and brutal” Mike Wallace-style interrogation of Mr. Chávez that the BBC broadcast this month.
“We are dealing with a big picture, and we don’t stop to go into a lot of the criticism and details of each country,” he said. “It’s a 101 introduction to a situation in South America that most Americans and Europeans don’t know about,” he added, because of “years and years of blighted journalism.”
“I think there has been so much unbalance that we are definitely a counter to that,” he also said.
Tariq Ali (left, with Stone) the British-Pakistani historian and commentator who helped write the screenplay, added: “It’s hardly a secret that we support the other side. It’s an opinionated documentary.”
Initial reviews of “South of the Border” have been tepid. Stephen Holden in The New York Times called it a “provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism,” while Entertainment Weekly described it as “rose-colored agitprop.”
Some of the misinformation that Mr. Stone, who consistently mispronounces Mr. Chávez’s name as Sha-VEZ instead of CHA-vez, inserts into “South of the Border” is relatively benign. A flight from Caracas to La Paz, Bolivia, flies mostly over the Amazon, not the Andes, and the United States does not “import more oil from Venezuela than any other OPEC nation,” a distinction that has belonged to Saudi Arabia during the period 2004-10.
But other questionable assertions relate to fundamental issues, including Mr. Stone’s contention that human rights, a concern in Latin America since the Jimmy Carter era, is “a new buzz phrase,” used mainly to clobber Mr. Chávez. Mr. Stone argues in the film that Colombia, which “has a far worse human rights record than Venezuela,” gets “a pass in the media that Chávez doesn’t” because of his hostility to the United States.
As Mr. Stone begins to speak, the logo of Human Rights Watch, which closely monitors the situation in both Colombia and Venezuela and has issued tough reports on both, appears on the screen. That would seem to imply that the organization is part of the “political double standard” of which Mr. Stone complains.
“It’s true that many of Chávez’s fiercest critics in Washington have turned a blind eye to Colombia’s appalling human rights record,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of the group’s Americas division. “But that’s no reason to ignore the serious damage that Chávez has done to human rights and the rule of law in Venezuela,” which includes summarily expelling Mr. Vivanco and an associate, in violation of Venezuelan law, after Human Rights Watch issued a critical report in 2008. [Editor’s Note: Vivanco, a typical Washington establishment liberal, scandalized by the down and dirty, rough and tumble of true class struggles, deserved to be expelled.]
A similarly tendentious attitude pervades Mr. Stone’s treatment of the April 2002 coup that briefly toppled Mr. Chávez. One of the key events in that crisis, perhaps its instigation, was the “Llaguno Bridge Massacre,” in which 19 people were shot to death in circumstances that remain murky, with Chávez supporters blaming the opposition, and vice versa.
Mr. Stone’s film includes some new footage from the confrontation at the bridge, but its basic argument hews closely to that of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a film the Chávez camp has endorsed. That documentary, however, has been subject to rebuttal by another, called “X-Ray of a Lie,” and by Brian A. Nelson’s book “The Silence and the Scorpion: The Coup Against Chávez and the Making of Modern Venezuela” (Nation Books), neither of which Mr. Stone mentions.
Instead Mr. Stone relies heavily on the account of Gregory Wilpert, who witnessed some of the exchange of gunfire and is described as an American academic. But Mr. Wilpert is also the husband of Mr. Chávez’s consul-general in New York, Carol Delgado, and a longtime editor and president of the board of a Web site, Venezuelanalysis.com, set up with donations from the Venezuelan government, affiliations that Mr. Stone does not disclose.
Like Mr. Stone’s take on the Kennedy assassination, this section of “South of the Border” hinges on the identity of a sniper or snipers who may or may not have been part of a larger conspiracy. As Mr. Stone puts it in the film, “Shots were fired from the rooftops of buildings, and members from both sides were hit in the head.”
In a telephone interview this week, Mr. Wilpert acknowledged that the first shots seem to have been fired from a building known as La Nacional, which housed the administrative offices of Freddy Bernal, the pro-Chávez mayor of central Caracas. In a congressional investigation following the coup, Mr. Bernal, who led an elite police squadron before taking office, was questioned about a military officer’s testimony that the Defense Ministry had ordered Mr. Bernal to fire on opposition demonstrators. Mr. Bernal described that charge as “totally false.”
“I did not know about that, I didn’t even know it was a Chávista building,” Mr. Stone said initially, before retreating to his original position. “Show me some Zapruder footage, and it might be different,” he said.
The second half of “South of the Border” is a road movie in which Mr. Stone, sometimes accompanied by Mr. Chávez, meets with leaders of Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba. But here, too, he bends facts and omits information that might undermine his thesis of a continent-wide “Bolivarian revolution,” with Mr. Chávez in the forefront.
Visiting Argentina, for example, he accurately describes the economic collapse of 2001. But then he jumps to Néstor Kirchner’s election to the presidency in May 2003 and lets Mr. Kirchner and his successor — and wife — Cristina Fernández de Kirchner claim that “we began a different policy than before.”
In reality, Mr. Kirchner’s presidential predecessor, Eduardo Duhalde, and Mr. Duhalde’s finance minister, Roberto Lavagna, were the architects of that policy shift and the subsequent economic recovery, which began while Mr. Kirchner was still the obscure governor of a small province in Patagonia. Mr. Kirchner was originally a protégé of Mr. Duhalde’s, but the two men are now political enemies, which explains the Kirchners’ desire to write him out of their version of history.
Trying to explain the rise of Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia who is a Chávez acolyte, Mr. Ali refers to a controversial and botched water privatization in the city of Cochabamba.
“The government decided to sell the water supply of Cochabamba to Bechtel, a U.S. corporation,” he says, “and this corporation, one of the things it got the government to do was to pass a law saying that from now on it was illegal for poor people to go out onto the roofs and collect rainwater in receptacles.”
In reality, the government did not sell the water supply: it granted a consortium that included Bechtel a 40-year management concession in return for injections of capital to expand and improve water service and construction of a dam for electricity and irrigation. Nor is the issue of water collection by the poor exactly as Mr. Ali presents it.
“The rainwater permit issue always comes up,” Jim Shultz, a water privatization critic and co-editor of “Dignity and Defiance: Stories of Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization” (University of California Press), said in an e-mail message. “What I can say is that the privatization of the public water system was accompanied by a government plan to require permits in order to dig wells and such, and that it could have potentially granted management concessions to Bechtel or others.”
But “it never got that far,” he added, and “it remains unclear to me to this day what type of water collection systems would have been included.” He concluded: “Many believed that would have included some rain collection systems. That could also easily be hype.”
Asked about the discrepancy, Mr. Ali replied that “we can talk about all this endlessly,” but “the aim of our film is very clear and basic.” In “South of the Border,” he added: “We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. It was to have a sympathetic view of these governments.”