South of the Border (2009 film)

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South of the Border
Theatrical release poster
Directed byOliver Stone
Written byTariq Ali
Mark Weisbrot
Produced byFernando Sulichin
Jose Ibanez
Rob Wilson
StarringHugo Chávez
Evo Morales
Cristina Kirchner
Néstor Kirchner
Rafael Correa
Raúl Castro
Fernando Lugo
Lula da Silva
Tariq Ali
Narrated byOliver Stone
CinematographyCarlos Marcovich
Albert Maysles
Lucas Fuica
Edited byAlexis Chavez
Elisa Bonora
Music byAdam Peters
Good Apple Productions
Muse Productions
New Element Productions
Pentagrama Films
Distributed byCinema Libre
Release date
  • September 2009 (2009-09)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States

South of the Border is a 2009 American documentary film directed by Oliver Stone. The documentary premiered at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. Writer for the project Tariq Ali calls the documentary "a political road movie".[1]

The film has Stone and his crew travel from the Caribbean down the spine of the Andes in an attempt to explain the "phenomenon" of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, and account for the continent's "pink tide" leftward tilt. A key feature is also Venezuela's recent Bolivarian revolution and Latin America's political progress in the 21st century. Stone stated that he hopes the film will help people better understand a leader who is wrongly ridiculed "as a strongman, as a buffoon, as a clown."[2]

In addition to Chávez, Stone sought to flesh out several other Latin American presidents whose policies and personalities generally get limited, or according to Stone, biased media attention in the United States and Europe, notably: Evo Morales of Bolivia; Cristina Kirchner and former president Néstor Kirchner of Argentina; Rafael Correa of Ecuador; Raúl Castro of Cuba; Fernando Lugo of Paraguay; and Lula da Silva of Brazil.[1]


The documentary examines the free-market economic policies of the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund, and how they have largely failed to alleviate Latin America's chronic income inequality. The film suggests that financial calamities such as the Argentine peso collapse of 2001, combined with Latin suspicions of U.S. drug-eradication efforts and resentment over the selling off of natural resources through multinational companies, have contributed to the rise of socialist and social-democratic leaders across the region.

According to the Associated Press, "Stone said he didn't see it necessary to present the opposition's case in his film."[3]


We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. It was to have a sympathetic view of these governments.

—Tariq Ali, South of the Border writer[4]

Oliver Stone spoke of his move to balance the media reactions to other pink tide leaders in the region: "... the project started as something about the American media demonizing Latin leaders. It became more than that as we got more involved. The press in America, I think you're aware, has divided the Latin continent into the 'bad Left' and the 'good Left'."[1]

US economist Mark Weisbrot advised Stone on the documentary and was credited as one of the writers alongside Tariq Ali.[3][5][6][7]

In May 2010, Stone began a Latin American tour to promote the film, with screenings planned in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The documentary was also being released in some cities in the United States and Europe later in 2010.[2]

The Box Office Mojo site reports that as of August 2010 the film had grossed $198,600 domestically.[8]

The documentary was released in the U.K. at the end of July 2010 by Dogwoof film distributors.[9]


South of the Border received mixed reviews, and has as a score of 45 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 19 film reviews collected.[10]

United States[edit]

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film is "a rebuttal of what [Stone] views as the fulminations and lies of right-wing media at home and abroad regarding the socialist democracies of South America".[11]

Time magazine described the film as a "slapdash effort", "amateur night as cinema, as lopsided and cheerleadery as its worldview".[12]

He raises no tough issues, some of which are summarized in Amnesty International's 2009 report on Venezuela: "Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human-rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country."[12]

Variety said, "The docu (sic) offers little genuine information and no investigative research, adopting a style even more polemical than Stone’s earlier focus on Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat."[13] Reuters said Stone "deliver[ed] a strong endorsement of Chavez's socialist agenda, and question[ed] the tenets of what he calls U.S. 'predatory capitalism,'"[14]

Bloomberg's journalist, Fabiola Moura described the film as "rosy in its picture", while being "a tonic dose of a perspective rarely seen in U.S. media coverage of the region",[15] and commented:

The movie doesn’t mention Chavez’s blacklisting of millions of people who signed a petition seeking a recall vote against him in 2004; the persecution of political rivals; the creation of a new "Capital District" to usurp power from the opposition-led Caracas city government; and the refusal to renew the broadcasting license of Radio Caracas Television, the country’s oldest station.[15]

NPR says the film tells only one side of the story and gives "kid glove treatment" to Chavez and his allies.[16]

The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a favourable review. The reviewer stated, in regards to the film's criticism that "those criticisms ironically validate another theme of the documentary: the media's often biased coverage of Latin American politics."[17]

Foreign Policy magazine said Stone asked softball questions of the South American leaders and

More troubling is how South of the Border masquerades as journalism... The film leaves the viewer flush with platitudes about the leader's Bolivarian Revolution, but with a head full of unanswered questions about how it actually works..... But Stone seems content to take virtually everything he sees at face value.... In the end, the film tell us less about Latin America than it does about Oliver Stone, and his career-long quest to expose Washington's supposedly implacable hegemonic designs.[18]

Larry Rohter wrote in The New York Times accusing the film of "misinformation."[19] On June 28, 2010, Oliver Stone responded to Rohter by rejecting the reporter's criticisms, saying they were not founded in fact, and criticizing the Times for its editorial board’s endorsement of the military coup of April 11, 2002 against the elected government of Venezuela, which he argued was "embarrassing" to the newspaper.[20] Stone said that Rohter had written an article on April 12, 2002 which strongly endorsed the coup in Venezuela and other anti-Chavez articles previously.[21] Stone's rebuttal concludes with the statement: "It is not surprising that someone [Rohter] who supports the military overthrow of a democratically elected government would not like a documentary like this one, which celebrates the triumphs of electoral democracy in South America over the last decade."[20][21] Mark Weisbrot added that "he [Rohter] failed to find any factual errors in the film – despite some rather desperate attempts."[22] Rohter replied and reiterated that a number of economical and historical facts were either omitted or changed by the filmmakers in Chavez's favor. He called the accusations levied against him by the film's creators a "smokescreen" and a "smear campaign".[23] The film's creators claimed similar treatment from Rohter.

Ronald Radosh criticized the film in the Wall Street Journal.[24]

Mark Weisbrot, who worked on the movie, wrote: "It's nice when you make a documentary about how the major media outlets misrepresent reality, and the media response to the film proves your point. In fact, the media's response to Oliver Stone's South of the Border, which I wrote with Tariq Ali, really completes a number of the film's arguments."[22]

Tariq Ali, who also worked on the movie added: “It’s hardly a secret that we support the other side. It’s an opinionated documentary”...“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.” [25]

United Kingdom[edit]

The documentary received mixed reviews from the mainstream press. Steve Rose wrote in The Guardian that it was "unashamedly partisan and unintentionally hilarious – both of which make it highly watchable."[26] Rose praises Stone for correcting the partisan view of the US media, but criticises Stone's interview approach, saying: "Full credit to the director for correcting the view perpetrated by the US media: that the continent's new leftist presidents, particularly Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, are 'dictators' bent on America's destruction, rather than democratically elected leaders ..." And that "Stone goes on to shoot himself in the foot with a series of clumsy, sycophantic interviews. He thinks he's being Walter Cronkite but he's more Alan Partridge."[26] The film received a rating of one star out of five from The Independent reviewer who said "it becomes clear that Stone is ill-equipped to conduct a serious political analysis of the continent. He gets amazing access to national leaders and yet, face to face with them, he doesn't even look interested in what they have to say."[27]

Latin America[edit]

In Venezuela, the film grossed US$18,601 on 20 screens after 12 days.[28] The film was criticised by Leopoldo López, an opposition leader, for ignoring and not mentioning a number of very serious problems in Venezuela such as escalating crime, inflation, food scarcity, housing, and access to water and electricity which has worsened under Chavez's rule. He disagrees with Stone's argument that "most peoples' lives in this country have improved under Chavez".[29] Stone responded that presenting the second party opposition's case in the documentary was not his main goal. He also said that: "People forget that he cut the poverty rate by one half...People in Venezuela are getting an education, they are getting health care and welfare. [Chavez] actually delivered on what he said he would."[3]


Tariq Ali who collaborated with Stone to make the film remarked that: "These changes that are taking place are not coming about through armed struggle or guerrilla warfare or Che Guevara. All these changes have come about through democratic elections."[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Oliver Stone heads 'South of the Border' to chat up Chavez and others by Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2009. (Archived by WebCite at
  2. ^ a b Stone: Film an intro to Chavez and his movement, by Ian James, Associated Press, 29-05-2010
  3. ^ a b c "Chavez gets red-carpet treatment in Venice". September 8, 2009. Retrieved December 1, 2023.
  4. ^ Rohter, Larry (June 25, 2010). "Oliver Stone's Latin America". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  5. ^ Archived January 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Oliver Stone - Page 2". Interview Magazine. November 25, 2008. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  7. ^ "Cast & Credits " South of the Border - a film by Oliver Stone". Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  8. ^ "South of the Border (2010)". Box Office Mojo. August 12, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  9. ^ "Home - South of the Border". Retrieved December 29, 2010.
  10. ^ "South of the Border". Metacritic. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  11. ^ Bennett, Ray (September 6, 2009). "South of the Border — Film Review". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 1, 2023.
  12. ^ a b Richard Corliss, Time, 8 September 2009, South of the Border: Chávez and Stone's Love Story
  13. ^ Weissberg, Jay (September 6, 2009). "South of the Border Movie Review". Variety.
  14. ^ "Stone says Chavez film may struggle to get U.S. play". Reuters. September 8, 2009.
  15. ^ a b Fabiola Moura, 29 September 2009, Bloomberg, Chavez Rides Kid’s Bike as Oliver Stone Humanizes ’Dictators’
  16. ^ Robert Smith, 25 September 200, NPR, Oliver Stone Profiles Power 'South Of The Border'
  17. ^ Chicago Sun-Times, 9 July 2010, Oliver Stone goes latin: The director questions the 'official' story in 'South of the Border'
  18. ^ Elizabeth Dickinson, Foreign Policy, 24 June 2010, [1] | accessdate = 2010-12-02
  19. ^ Rohter, Larry (June 26, 2010). "Oliver Stone's Latin America". The New York Times.
  20. ^ a b truthdig - truthdigg drilling beneath the headlines, Truthdig, Jun 28, 2010, South of the Border: Oliver Stone Responds to New York Times Attack
  21. ^ a b pulse, 28 June 2010, Stone, Ali, and Weisbrot respond to attack from the New York Times’ Larry Rohter (Stone, Ali and Weisbrot's letter to the New York Times)
  22. ^ a b Mark Weisbrot,, 16 July 2010, South of the Border: reviewing the reviewers
  23. ^ Larry Rohter, History News Network, 26 July 2010, Oliver Stone Still Doesn't Get It
  24. ^ WSJ, 26 June 2010, To Chavez, With Love
  25. ^ Larry Rohter, New York Times, 26 July 2010, [2]
  26. ^ a b Steve Rose, The Guardian, 29 July 2010, South of the Border
  27. ^ Anthony Quinn, The Independent, 30 July 2010, [3]
  28. ^ Oliver Stone doc sinks in South America., by Anna Marie de La Fuente, Variety, 10-06-2010
  29. ^ Leopoldo López, The Huffington Post, 15 July 2010, Why Oliver Stone is wrong about Venezuela

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]