Hard talk with Oliver Stone

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The director of 'JFK' and 'Nixon' will visit London next week to preview his new documentary, 'South of the Border', and discuss his 40-year career with Time Out's Film editor, Dave Calhoun. Here he talks to Wally Hammond about the US elite, Chávez, Bush and Nixon

‘They don’t give a fuck about the Afghani peasants! They didn’t give a fuck about the Vietnamese peasants! They only give a fuck about the US and power. That’s what it’s about. They don’t give a fuck that President Chávez of Venezuela has lifted 50 per cent of his people out of poverty!’ This is film director Oliver Stone talking, down the line from LA, about his bête noire – the fucking US elite.

‘I’m a traitor to my background. I went to Yale in the class of ’68 with George Bush,’ Stone says. ‘I didn’t like that class. Their arrogance really turned me off. So I got the fuck out of there. It took me two drop-outs to get into Vietnam. And all my life has been a rebellion against that elite, the educated elite that destroyed this country.’

Stone’s explosive animus against the self-serving interests of America’s political elite informs his new film, the documentary ‘South of the Border’, which aims ‘to give a voice’ to America’s latest bogeyman – President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela – and the group of daring new ‘Bolivarian’ presidents that have emerged in South America. ‘These leaders –  Chávez, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Raúl Castro of Cuba,  Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Lula da Silva of Brazil – are mainly from the people,’ Stone explains. ‘They grew up poor, they were imprisoned. Chávez  was a poor man, Lula was a trade unionist, Morales was tortured – they come from the earth. We don’t have leaders like that in the US any more.’

Arguably, we don’t have filmmakers like Stone any more. Controversy has dogged him from the get go: his script for Alan Parker’s drug nightmare ‘Midnight Express’ back in 1979 got him into ‘plenty of hot water’ for its depiction of Turkish jailers (‘They said I went to excess. I probably did,’ says Stone). And his ‘presidential’ movies, ‘JFK’, ‘Nixon’ and ‘W.’, have furthered his reputation as a conspiracy theorist. ‘[Judge] George Bundy Smith and [ex-Secretary of State] Robert McNamara have verified what I said about Kennedy. I have been saying all along that Kennedy’s plan to pull out of Vietnam was one of the reasons for his assassination and they’ve proved me right,’ the director insists. Stone leaps in where other angels fear to tread.

It was leaping into Colombia in 2007 that led to Stone’s first meeting with  Chávez (the leader Fox News portrays as ‘either an evil dictator or a buffoon and a clown’, but whom Stone regards as a friend). He was there with Chávez and others as part of a delegation to ensure the release of French hostages from the local FARC forces –  ‘I gave up most of Christmas and spent it in a lousy fucking jungle motel room in Colombia, on the border in some shit town waiting for the hostages to get out!’ – an affair Stone calls a ‘dirty business’ involving subterfuge, double-dealing and deception, which ended with Bush’s ‘friend’, Colombian President Uribe, claiming the credit for the releases. Stone was there on the suggestion of Fernando Sulichin, the Argentine producer of most of his documentaries: his one film on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (‘Persona Non Grata’) and his three on Fidel Castro (‘Commandante’, ‘Looking for Fidel’ and his latest, ‘Fidel in Winter’, filmed last August and ready for release next year), alongside Stone’s upcoming ten-part series, ‘The Secret History of America’. It is Sulichin who had the access; first to enable Stone to interview Castro. Castro then recommended Stone to Chávez. And Chávez introduced him to the progressive leaders he features in ‘South of the Border’. ‘People in America and elsewhere don’t know these guys,’ says Stone. ‘They’ve been demonised.’

I suggest to Stone that he must know more presidents than Tony Blair. He laughs: ‘Well, I’ve met the Cambodian president. I met Mitterand once – he was tough to talk to. But I’m not chasing presidents. In the States, I’m down on the shit list. Bush Senior hit on me, so did Bush Junior, and Nixon took a real shot at me on “JFK”, boy!’

‘But it’s been quite a year.’ He’s referring to how he’s spent the past few months juggling work on ‘South of the Border’ with finishing and premiering ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’, a sequel to his 1987 film. ‘I call it “From Cannes to Cochabamba”,’ he jokes. ‘The Cannes preview of “Wall Street 2” was the highlight of my film life – the most elegant premiere I’ve ever been to, with a room in the Grace Kelly suite in the Carlton Hotel and a view of Cannes right out of Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”. And then Cochabamba, and the preview of “South of the Border”, where I had 6,000 Bolivians booing the villains and cheering the heroes in the largest opening of my life. It’s been wonderful.’

‘Time Out Live’s Evening with Oliver Stone’ is on Tue July 20. For tickets see www.timeout.com/oliverstone.

Read our review of 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

Author: Wally Hammond



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