The overarching theme in Oliver Stoneâ€™s documentary South of the Border seems to be a distrust of the U.S. and international media. Stone uses every opportunity to criticize what he claims to be the government and corporate controlled television stations and newspapers that align themselves with powerful bureaucratic bodies. In his defense of the South American governmental leaders that he interviews, Stone consistently blames the media for distorting and manipulating the truth in order to portray these leaders as evil dictators without the countryâ€™s best interest at heart.
To further demonstrate his disdain for the mainstream media Stone constructs South of the Border in a raw, unfinished fashion that feels like anything but a CNN human interest piece. Almost every camera shot has another camera visible in it along with light and sound equipment, tech people standing around, and the voice of an interpreter shouting over the noise. Stone proves heâ€™s not one of them by lobbing softball questions at the politicians who have been accused of numerous human rights violations instead of asking the hard questions that you would expect a journalist to ask. The result is a film that feels too unbalanced to be taken seriously, even if it has a valid point to make.
In South of the Border Oliver Stone was given seemingly unrestricted access to some of South Americaâ€™s most controversial leaders. The main target of his reparations is Hugo ChÃ¡vez, the charismatic President of Venezuela who the Bush administration has publicly called an enemy to democracy. In his interviews Stone seeks to reveal the true events behind the Venezuelan leaderâ€™s rise to power and his support among the people. The filmmakerâ€™s thesis is that the corporate controlled media purposely showed more footage of anti-ChÃ¡vez demonstrators than the dominant pro-ChÃ¡vez country folk, although it often seemed that he was bending the facts to fit the theory rather than the other way around.
Stone also conducted interviews with Cuban President RaÃºl Castro, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. Each leader works with one another to form a sort of Socialist South American alliance with stated ideals that echo that of Venezuelan revolutionary SimÃ³n BolÃvar. Stone paints the various politicians as progressive leaders whose only disregard for the United States comes from the American governmentsâ€™ over-involvement in their affairs.
One of Stoneâ€™s strongest points is that Americaâ€™s over-reaching involvement in the affairs of countries around the world, specifically South America, has gone too far. Stone offers seemingly irrefutable evidence that the Bush administration met with Venezuelan revolutionaries behind closed doors in the weeks leading up to the attempted overthrow of Hugo ChÃ¡vez. The film seems to indicate (and itâ€™s probably not far off) that the U.S. government has a hand in every election or military coups that takes place in South America. Stone aims to deter the accusations of South America being a continent of dictators by portraying U.S. leaders as fascist and dictatorial.
Stone gets overtly political by only presenting the negatives that occurred during the Bush Administration when in reality, the attempts to control natural resource rich South American countries has been going on under every president. Bushâ€™s father is just as guilty with the egregious handling of the Panama invasion and removal of Manuel Noriega in 1989. With a running time of 79 minutes, Stone had plenty of time to expand on his argument by bringing in some historical perspective.
What made the film most difficult to digest is that there was a strong feeling that Oliver Stone was operating solely due to American guilt. He practically worships the leaders in South America who definitely are not saints. Stoneâ€™s points are well-intentioned, but because he never gets the politicians to directly address their criticisms the movie feels more like a propaganda film than a legitimate documentary.
Bottom Line: South of the Border has a respectable point to make, but it would have been better made by someone not afraid to ask the tough questions.