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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?

By José OrozcoContributor / June 29, 2010

Oliver Stone (r.), a US film director, shakes hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as they arrive at the local premiere of Stone's film 'South of the Border' in Caracas Monday.

Jorge Silva/Reuters


Caracas, Venezuela

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

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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.

"South of the Border" opened in New York City on June 25, though it's been showing to South American audiences since late May. Chávez 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 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.