Hugo Chavez stole the show at the Venice Film Festival, where he walked the red carpet with director Oliver Stone for the premiere of the documentary "South of the Border."
Hundreds of admirers, some chanting "president, president," gathered outside of the for the leader's arrival. A few held up Venezuelan flags and a banner in Spanish that read "Welcome, president."
Chavez threw a flower into the crowd and touched his heart, and at one point took a photographer's camera to snap a picture himself. Security outside the Casino was tightened in advance of his arrival with military police checking bags
The leftist leader is getting a chance to hob-knob with the Hollywood elite as the central focus of Stone's film "South of the Border" — a look at what Stone calls the "truth" about Chavez's role in the sweeping changes in South America.
Chavez has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policy and often made headlines for likening President George W. Bush to the devil. The film, which is a series of interviews and clips from U.S. media reports, tells the story of Venezuela's so-called "peaceful revolution" since Chavez came to power in 1998. Chavez is portrayed as a hero of the people who refuses to be bullied, Reuters reported.
Stone says the U.S. media — including FOX News — and the government have demonized Chavez and other leftist South American leaders.
"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 told Variety.
Rumors began swirling last week that Chavez —who reportedly is a fan of Stone's work — would accept the director's invitation to the world premiere of the film. Rumors increased when when Venezuelan officials and military were spotted on the Lido, the festival's outlying island venue, on Sunday, AFP reported.
The film, which is being shown out of competition at the 66th Mostra, was enthusiastically applauded at the press showing on Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.