In his final Real Time of the season, Bill Maher raved about Oliver Stone‘s South of the Border (Cinema Libre, 6.25) with pretty much the same terms I used last September after seeing the doc at Lincoln Center. The American news media hasn’t touched (and won’t touch) the doc’s central thesis with a ten-foot pole — i.e., most of South America is no longer being run by U.S.-allied tinhorn dictators, and that’s mostly a good thing.

“Is Stone’s documentary a hard-hitting portrait of South American political realities and particularly the reign of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez?,” I wrote on 9.24.09. “No, but it’s a perfectly reasonable and welcome counter-view to the U.S. mainstream-media Kool-Aid version, which has always been reactionary and rightist-supporting and hostile to nativist movements.

South of the Border is a good deal more than just a friendly (i.e., non-condemning) portrait of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. It is actually a group portrait of all the left-leaning South American heads of state whose views represent a political sea change.

“Until relatively recently South American countries have been largely run by right-leaning frontmen for the oligarchs (i.e., the upper-crust elite), which have always been in league with U.S. interests and the coldly capitalist, market-driven finaglings of the International Monetary Fund. And the lower classes have always had to eat bean dip.

“But since the turn of the century a turnabout has begun to happen with the arrival of a generation of Bolivarian (i.e., nativist, anti-outsider) leaders with skeptical or contrarian attitudes about US manipulations — Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner (along with her husband and ex-President Nestor Kirchner), Paraguay’s Fernando Lug, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa.

“So now there are six Latin American presidents of a similar mindset, and seven if you add Cuba’s Raul Castro. That’s pretty significant considering that much of South and Central America had been under the control of a series of U.S.-supporting, IMF-funded rightist governments for most of the 20th Century.”