Oliver Stone is not just a filmmaker but a lifelong student of history, particularly American history. But given the US’s involvement in the politics and economies of countless countries across the world, it’s hard to view American history in isolation. Perhaps that is why Stone has often turned his lens to Latin America.
This year the Los Cabos International Film Festival will screen Snowden, his most recent work of historical drama, alongside one of his early films Salvador, the story of an American journalist covering the civil war in El Salvador, in a tribute to the director. Though Stone is best known for US-centric films like JFK and Born on the Fourth of July, he’s also made various films about Latin America.
Stone’s relationship with the south is layered. Though he’s certainly a critic of exploitative American policies, Stone is by nature a dramatist, which can compromise a messier and inconsistent portrait of the area. Films that deal with Latin America seem like ethnographic visits made by a well-read and well-meaning artist looking to uncover cultural and political truths, but these films also depend on narrative tropes and paint portraits that resemble Shakespearean archetypes. This is particularly the case in the documentaries he’s made showcasing Cuban leader Fidel Castro. This is not a criticism, per se, as Stone is still an engaging storyteller and apt producer of big budget, star-studded studio films, but perhaps this speaks to the limitations of the medium itself and the expectations that we as an audience have of commercial films.
Alas movies are only 90 minutes long and demand a degree of fabrication, compression of time, events, characters, and heightened drama — even in the case of non-fiction. Stone understands this and even his films on Latin America reflect it. Though they can at times come off as earnest and calculated, Stone can be relied upon to provide us with a hefty dose of entertainment.
Here’s a list of Stone’s dalliances with Latin America.
Though Brian De Palma gets most of the credit for directing this American classic, it was Oliver Stone who wrote the script about a newly arrived Cuban refugee. Stone reportedly did a lot of research, even putting himself in jeopardy and at the mercy of real Miami drug dealers. Scarface tracks the rise and fall of Marielito and king-pin drug dealer Tony Montana.
James Woods plays an American journalist who heads to El Salvador to cover the civil war, and falls in love with a local woman in the process. When the political situation becomes untenable, and the country is at the brink of war, the lovers must find a way out and back to the US.
Stone visits Cuba for three days and is provided with the rare opportunity to interview Fidel Castro. This film details their encounter.
Looking for Fidel (2004)
This is the follow-up to Comandante, and equally features a series of conversations between Castro and Stone. This documentary also includes the perspective of Cubans who oppose the Castro regime.
South of the Border (2009)
Stone tours South America and meets with leftist leaders such as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Lula da Silva. The goal in this documentary is to account for the socialist tide that swept through Latin America.
Castro in Winter (2012)
For the third installment in his Cuban documentary series, Stone visits Castro as his health deteriorates, and soon after ceding the presidency to his brother Raul Castro.
Successful marijuana growers in Southern California must rescue their girlfriend when she is kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. Benicio del Toro plays a menacing and sadistic captor while Salma Hayek stars as the leader of the Baja Cartel.