VENICE

Chavez a Star on the Red Carpet

The leftist leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, received a warm welcome at the Venice Film Festival, where he walked the red carpet accompanied by 50 bodyguards and director Oliver Stone. Hundreds of admirers chanted "president, president" in greeting and Chavez returned their enthusiasm, throwing a flower into the crowd and repeatedly touching his heart. Chavez is the focus of Stone's new film, South of the Border, which looks at his role in the changes in the region. Stone says Chavez has been unfairly demonized in the press. "Chavez was elected by popular vote in no fewer than 12 different elections. And Venezuela has seen a clear economic improvement with him," Stone said. "I think he's an extremely dynamic and charismatic figure. He's open and warmhearted and big, and a fascinating character," the director told the Los Angeles Times. Chavez, who once called George W. Bush "the devil," said he sees no need to use that term in reference to Obama, and that he hopes to work with the president further.