Hugo Chavez attends Venice for Stone doc

'South of the Border' charts his rise to power

VENICE -- Controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez arrived on the Venice Lido on Monday for the world premiere of "South of the Border," the Oliver Stone documentary that looks at Chavez's rise to power.

Chavez's arrival capped a two-day period heavy in films that took a critical view of U.S. culture. In addition to "South of the Border," which sought to debunk criticisms that Chavez was a danger to the U.S., the 66th Venice Film Festival also saw the world premieres of Michael Moore's take on the financial crisis, "Capitalism: A Love Story" as well as Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!," which stars Matt Damon as an unreliable corporate whistleblower in a story that pokes at some of the evils of U.S. corporate culture.

Among the other recent highlights at the world's oldest film festival was the presentation of Venice's lifetime achievement award to John Lasseter and a group of directors from Pixar, the first time Venice ever presented the award to an entire studio.

"Star Wars" creator George Lucas was on hand to present the award in a ceremony that also included clips from past and in-production Disney/Pixar creations, including several minutes from "The Princess and the Frog," the first Disney production in years to rely on hand-drawn animation.

"Filmmaking and animation are among the most collaborative art forms in the world, and it is never more collaborative than it is with Pixar," a beaming Lasseter said at the ceremony.

The arrival of Chavez added some unscheduled star power to a Venice festival criticized in the Italian press for falling short of previous editions of the festival in terms of glitz and glamour.

On his arrival in Venice, Chavez -- the first non-European head of state to appear at the Venice festival in recent memory -- told the massive crowd gathered that events like film festivals had a role to play in international politics.

"Use what you see here to educate yourselves so you can educate your countrymen and your leaders," he said.

Moore was similarly well-received in Venice, thronged by well-wishers every time he made a public appearance and applauded for his attacks on the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush and on what he called "an endemic culture of corporate greed." His film screened four times on the Lido, each time to a full house.

"I am personally affected by good people who struggle and work hard and who have seen their lives destroyed by decisions from people who only have the best interest of a company's bottom line at heart," Moore said at a press briefing.

Unlike "South of the Border" and "The Informant!," Moore's "Capitalism" screened in competition for Venice's Golden Lion, which will be presented at the festival's conclusion Saturday. This is Moore's first trip to Venice after two appearances in which he took home a major prize in Cannes, for "Bowling for Columbine" in 2002 and "Fahrenheit 9/11" two years later.
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