Oliver Stone rolls into Venice

Director drawn to people who go against the grain

Oliver Stone is always drawn to people who go against the grain.

The director has spent the past year juggling preparations for his “Wall Street” sequel, which starts lensing on Wednesday in New York, and finishing “South of the Border,” his feature-length documentary about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which world preems in Venice today. Stone began work on the Chavez project in January when he traveled to Venezuela to interview the controversial leader. What began as an attempt to challenge the negative portrayal of Chavez in the American media grew into a pan-South American journey with Stone speaking to a number of leaders in the region.

“I didn’t just want to do a denigration of what the American media says about him. I wanted to take it further and go to seven or eight presidents and ask their views on Chavez,” Stone told Variety. “That’s how it became a bit more of a road movie, going from country to country. All these leaders end up coming down favor of Chavez.”

The resulting doc, a U.S.-Spanish co-production with a $2.5 million budget, arrives at Venice without a distribution deal.

Producer Fernando Sulichin has held negotiations with buyers in Latin America and Europe, where doc is likely to appeal to auds interested in Chavez and the wave of leftist pols elected to office in Latin America.

Stone, however, is more skeptical about the pic’s chances in the U.S.

“You can’t get a fair hearing for Chavez. It’s an outrageous caricature they’ve drawn of him in the Western press,” said Stone. “Will this movie ever make it on to American TV? You wonder. It’s going to be a tough one. I always seem to go for characters who are vilified, I don’t know why. Can you imagine I went for Nixon? I didn’t defend him but I humanized him. It was the same thing with ‘W.’ I think I like people who go against the grain and provoke an outcry.”

Stone’s previous docs include “Commandante,” about Cuban President Fidel Castro, and “Persona Non Grata,” which began as a project about Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat but became a wider-reaching primer on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The director is also looking forward to revisiting arguably his most iconic creation — Gordon Gekko — in “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps,” the sequel to his 1987 “Wall Street.”

Stone passed on the project before the economic meltdown in September, but a new draft of the script by Allan Loeb this March piqued his interest.

“I wouldn’t have done it without the economic meltdown,” said Stone. “The 1987 version created that myth about these people. I thought the bubble would burst then but it didn’t end. It was amazing it went on into the 1990s and 2000s and the whole thing just got worse. It’s worth it 23 years later to go back and revisit the character of Gekko.”

Stone is also preparing what he describes as his life’s work, the 10-part Showtime documentary series “Secret History of America” set to bow in 2010. Stone is exec producing and narrating the series, which will offer new insights into critical moments in American history.

“It doesn’t have Lee Harvey Oswald killing John F. Kennedy,” quipped Stone.