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  1. Wealth
September 9, 2009

Chavez on celluloid

By Spear's

Unsurprisingly, Stone’s film on Chávez is less documentary and more glowing, brainwashed propaganda.

You couldn’t make it up: the dictator and the filmmaker in a love-in.

Actually, London’s Sunday Times thought I’d done just that when I wrote an editorial this past February on the Venezuelan referendum and my Newsnight interview: their legal department called me in New York seeking confirmation that Oliver Stone was indeed making a film glorifying Chávez. They were afraid of being sued.

Well, they wouldn’t be sued now: Chávez and Stone did their best Posh ‘n’ Becks imitation on the red carpet in Venice last night.

Donning identical black suits, white shirts and chavista red ties, they strolled side-by-side, waving at the crowds, smiling at the cameras, one of which Chávez engagingly seized to jokingly take a picture himself. What an apt metaphor for his seizure of Venezuelan media, which his militias have attacked with tear gas and whose licenses he has personally suspended.

No one can work a crowd like Chávez. After all, he gets lots of practice with his Alo, Presidente broadcasts that blanket the airwaves every Sunday. A recent one was broadcast from Hato El Frío, a 200,000-acre estate he seized from the family of a close friend of mine.

Unsurprisingly, Stone’s film on Chávez, South of the Border, is less documentary and more glowing, brainwashed propaganda suffering afflicted by the film maker getting too close to his subject: flying on Chávez’s plane, riding bikes together, etc. Admittedly, Stone (by his own admission) has only spent “a few hours” with Chávez.

“South of the Border” apparently also features clips of the other “adherents” of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution: Morales, Correa, Lula, Kirchner, completely betraying his ignorance of the nuances of regional politics. Lumping Lula in with Chávez is simply ludicrous. Regardless of Lula’s leftist rhetoric, he is an extremely shrewd pragmatist, who has actively undercut Chávez on many occasions. Chávez may like to think Lula is a protégé, but almost anyone can tell you that is certainly not the case — and not how Lula thinks of himself.

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But then Stone was not interested in accuracy or the facts. Hence why he ignored the octupling of the murder rate, the rampant corruption of the Chávez family who control an entire region of the country, the seizures of private property, the control of the media or the over 2,200 political prisoners.

When asked why he did not give one minute to the growing opposition, Stone responded: “Why do you seek the dark side when the guy is doing good things?”

Really? Well, gee, Ollie, I thought the truth mattered to you in making a documentary.

But maybe the truth is not what really mattered to Stone, who likes to make a contrarian splash like some overgrown enfant terrible.

At least the Venice Film Festival isn’t taking the film seriously: although being screened, it is not in the competition.

But it is not surprising Stone got a one-sided view of Chávez; his guide was the renowned socialist economist and chavista Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a renowned well-left-of-center think tank that has always supported Chávez and supports Zelaya and other authoritarian chavistas.

There could, however, be another explanation for the overwhelming one-sidedness of the Stone-Chávez collaboration. Chávez has never made any secret of his dreams of Hollywood glory: he has spent millions on Hollywood-style studios in Venezuela that he has proudly showed off to Sean Penn and Danny Glover, both of whom have received many millions from Chávez. Glover reputedly received US$20 million.

Given the splash “South of the Border” is making and that Chávez had his dream come true and walked the red carpet in Venice, I have to wonder how much Tweedledee paid Tweedledum for his adulation.

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