This documentary is a part of the post-Bush cinema movement that emerged in 2009 and is still very much with us today. Other films in this category are Up in the Air and The Messenger. What these films have in common is that they examine the aftermath of the Bush years (or the Bush decade—which has yet to end, a fact that is made clear by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the wars in the East, and Cheney’s life without a pulse). While Up in the Air and The Messenger survey the wreckage of the Bush period (the economic collapse, Up; and the real casualties of the fabricated war in Iraq, Messenger), South of the Border celebrates the results of the revival of leftist politics in Bush-era South America.
An important figure in this revival is, of course, the socialist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. He was hated by the Bush administration and the mainstream American media, but managed to survive all of the attacks on his image and also on his power—the 2002 coup d’état. In the documentary, the director, Oliver Stone, positions Chávez (correctly or not) as the point from which the leftist transformation of South American politics radiates: Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Like Chávez, these leaders are unabashedly anti-Bush, and much of their strength and support is drawn from their open rejection of North American awesomeness. Stone, the director of the best biopic on Bush, W, interviews these leaders, and also Cuba’s Raúl Castro, and is boyishly thrilled by their pan–South American solidarity and harsh criticisms of American neoliberalism and foreign policy. The documentary has its problems, but none is worse than the terrible lack of films that attempt to explain and explore this important part of the world. North America needs to know more about what is really going on in South America.