Today: April 11, 2024

Oliver Stone Interview

Well known for his controversial subjects, American film director and screenwriter Oliver Stone talks about his latest documentary South Of The Border, out now on DVD.

How has the film been received by your countrymen?

(Laughs) Listen, I’m very happy to get it out in the US – I
thought it would basically make Venezuelan television and that would be it. It
wasn’t done with a lot of hope – you don’t do these things that way ‘cos the
ballgame in the States is definitely [to put a] missile shield over the entire
country. When it comes to South America, we hear only negative things about
these people, especially Chavez. I’m curious and I’d done Salvador and two
Castro documentaries but I didn’t really want to get involved because I knew it
could be a hornet’s nest when it came to the US media. But it became more
interesting as it went along and Chavez – who’s a wonderful interviewee by the
way – said ‘Don’t believe what I’m saying to you, go out there in the field and
see for yourself. Go and see these other presidents and see what’s going on’.
This is a big change in this continent, this is a social transformation like
nothing that’s ever gone before. Except for Castro, there’s no reformer who’s
truly succeeded.

Why is that?

Reform is a tricky proposition, partly because of the United
States’ corporate interests but also because of the local oligarchies that
control a lot of the land and a lot of the resources in their own country. Very
powerful forces, including the church and the military, so the odds are long
against any kind of social reform.

Like many of your films, South of the Border deals with
power and how people handle it – is that a theme that fascinates you?

It does, it does – I’m a dramatist, I like the big picture
and I think that’s what matters with the Chavez story. All this nit-picking in
the US and UK is a mindset that’s very Western. Of course, there are interests
involved. But this is the first time in South or Central America where you have
seen a unified movement of people who have the same goals of independence and
preserving their own wealth. It’s an amazing story – and I haven’t read it
anywhere! It’s clearly the case but it’s not been reported.

The film opens with a segment of Fox News coverage of South
American politics – where can Americans go for a more balanced view?

To the madhouse! (Laughs) To lithium, to more and more
drugs, I don’t know! (Laughs)

Do you think you’ve answered the pertinent questions with
this documentary?

I’ve asked some of them. You could quibble about it and
nitpick and I think the New York Times has done a fairly decent job of trying
to deconstruct it. There are problems in Venezuela, of distribution and
redistribution, because it’s a rough reform. It’s coming from a very badly
mismanaged government. But I can say the World Bank would support the fact that
Chavez has cut poverty by 50 per cent and extreme poverty by 70 per cent.
Literacy is widespread, infant mortality is way down… the basic statistics are

Do you see the success of the Bolivarian movement among
South American leaders as a triumph over Friedman economics?

That’s what they’d say. They’re against the International
Monetary Funds, they’re against the austerity budgets that were imposed upon
them, they’re against what they call neo-liberal economics.

There’s a shocking moment in the film when former
Argentinean president Nestor Kirchner says George W Bush told him the way to
improve the economy is to start a small war – of the countries you visited,
which is most likely to have a solid base and thrive, and which could slip

(Sighs) That’s a very hard call. I’m concerned and I’m
watching it like a horse race. We showed the film recently in Bolivia and had
6,000 people show up and cheer and Hillary Clinton was next door in Ecuador,
trying to divide Ecuador from Venezuela. The State Department people working in
this region are essentially still the same people; Obama is Bush Not-So-Lite. We’ll
see what happens in two years.

You’ve said Chavez has been unfairly represented in the
Western media – are the rumours that your next project could be about Iranian
president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad true?

That’s a hot potato for me. I did make an offer three years
ago to talk to him, and the answer was no, and then when I was making W, the
answer was yes but I couldn’t come. It’s all mixed signals with Iran, they’re a
little bit screwy – like North Korea, you can’t communicate with them. You
never get the right answer at the right time. I don’t think it would happen
right now.

Because you’ve got other projects in development?

I really am overloaded with documentaries and I have to try
to keep my life on track because documentaries are punishing me in a certain
way – it’s not simple to do these things. I’m doing a third Castro film, that’s
been shot and is coming out in the Fall, and I’m doing this ten-hour ‘secret
history’ of the United States which is a big deal.

Is that ten-part series you attempting to prepare your

(Laughs) It is. I looked at my children and thought ‘They’re
getting the wrong history, they’re all screwed up’. I don’t have a historian’s
degree but I read a lot of history books and can see a lot of flaws them so why
can’t an amateur get in there and give it a shot? If you can make a film that’s
interesting to a young person and somewhat accurate to the truth – because the
truth is a very illusive thing – it would be a good thing to leave behind.

Is it easier to get a receptive audience if you do a drama
about a real-life subject, rather than a documentary?

Oh yeah, you have a much larger audience for a drama. People
want to be entertained and they look at documentaries as going to school. I
don’t, I think documentaries when they’re well made can be exciting.

With the films you’ve made about US presidents, there were
seemingly obvious anchors for the stories – with Nixon there’s Watergate,
Kennedy the assassination, Bush the incredible backstory. Can you see an anchor
yet to make an Obama film or do you need to wait until he’s out of office?

I would say no, I don’t see one yet, but you never say
never. Clinton, for example, I never thought I’d do anything close to him but
he’s certainly an interesting character, when you see the impact he’s had on
the world.

Obama’s said he’d like Will Smith to play him in a movie…

I think the tyranny of now is always going to be an issue if
you make that film at this moment. When I did W, I was attacked by some
quarters for not making the criticism strong enough but I looked at the future
and was trying to look at the character of the man. Once he goes to Iraq it’s
very clear what kind of man he is and what kind of fool he is.

Do you think, like JFK, that W will be reassessed in the

I do, I think it holds the water. I feel like it’s an
entertaining and its narrative has a good spine and it’s a tough story to tell
because he’s an inherently dislikeable man to me, but on the other hand Josh
Brolin inhabited him and made him empathetic, if not sympathetic. As a man who
doesn’t have a clue, there’s a certain charm – whether he should be president
is another matter. And there’s the father issue too, which drives all of us but
especially him.

And for your own future, was it inevitable that you’d return
to make a second Wall Street film, because it’s in your blood?

Yeah, I loved the idea of it because it’s my first franchise
movie! (Laughs) To make a business movie that turns into a business is amazing.
Actually, I was nicely recompensed to come back and follow up the story 23
years later, which I wanted to do because we’d reached a new level of greed.
Greed is now legal, but greed is still good! I thought that era was coming to
an end in 1987 but it kept going and going. With Alan Greenspan and the Federal
Reserve Board, it reached unbelievable proportions and returning 23 years
later, so much has changed. Artificial intelligence seems to be running the
country’s economic system, it doesn’t really seem to have human ability to
break it, it’s got its own current like Mother Nature. But certainly the banks
have changed their mandate and are no longer banks – there’s no stability, it’s
all volatile. You pick up the paper tomorrow morning and you don’t know what’s
going to happen – it’s potentially a disaster every day. That’s not a healthy
way to live. Who wants to live to be old and try to put money aside in this
economy? These are issues for the whole world and Wall Street’s at the centre
of it.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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