Stone interviews leaders Evo Morales of Bolivia, Lula da Silva of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner (and her husband ex-President Nėstor Kirchner) of Argentina, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Raúl Castro of Cuba and, for the vast majority of airtime, speaks to Hugo Chávez of Venezuala and investigates his rise to power. They are interviewed on their own terms and, regardless of what I know (very little) of their policies, come across well; Stone is not exactly a pushy or difficult interviewer in the style of, say, Jeremy Paxman, but appears to be attempting to put these leaders on an even footing with their northern counterparts by presenting them in a non-negative way.
Although the political landscape of the United States means that, over there, this film is expected to be seen as ‘radical’ or perhaps even ‘filled with socialist propaganda’, I don’t think you need to worry about coming out tricked into believing that we should give up all personal wealth and live in workers’ cooperatives farming corn on the lawns of Blenheim Palace. Little is suggested about the interference of the US government in South American politics that hasn’t been either suggested before, by well-established academics or journalists, or proven and, whilst one is able to work out quickly that the film isn’t going to be a damning indictment of the growth of socialist policies across Latin America, it certainly doesn’t try to suggest that the US or the UK model themselves on these countries, either.
The time I didn’t spend trying to work out how much of the film I could ‘trust’ was spent enjoyably! The political message seems to have been put second in Stone’s priorities for making the film. First priority has been given to making sure that this trip through recent South American history remains fun, with lighthearted additions such as black-and-white clips of old US news programs to move the narrative along, footage of Hugo Chávez riding a child’s bike that eventually buckles under his weight, and a scene with Evo Morales’s football tricks showing up the director’s, who nearly knocks himself out attempting a ‘header’.
Clips such as the one in which Chávez stands in the UN General Assembly and addresses former US President George W. Bush, in English, “Mister Bush. You are a donkey!” serve the dual purpose of being quite funny and demonstrating the Venezualan’s frustration with the United States’ unwillingness to accept Chávez as the democratic leader he claims to be. On the other hand, it isn’t all an easy trip through the continent, chewing coca leaves and watching grinning South American politicians shake hands and kiss babies. The film also includes bloody footage of the 1992 coup attempt (by Chávez, as one of the leaders of the Venezualan military at the time) and the 2002 coup (by Chávez’s opposition), which in one case shows blood literally pooling in the streets.
Overall, South of the Border is an interesting and simple-to-follow look at the politics and personalities of Latin America, providing an alternative viewpoint to that offered in the mainstream media. This film is worth watching even if you already have an opinion on socialism in South America – and is enough fun that you might enjoy it even if you don’t care to develop one!