Oliver Stone film on Hugo Chávez flops with Venezuelans
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 Chávez fallen flat with Venezuelans?
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It's that it flopped in President Chávez's native Venezuela, perhaps the one country where it was most expected to do well.
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 Chávez and Latin America's other leftist leaders. It interviews Chávez 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 Chávez a bigger threat to American security than Osama bin Laden. Refuting the angry, authoritarian Chávez portrayed in American media sound bites, the film shows a more human side to him and other leaders. Chávez 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 Chávez'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 Chávez and other heads of state but falls short on context and background.