Being in the same
room with one of your heroes can be a dangerous
thing—especially when that person comes with
so much controversy attached to his media-fueled
Oliver Stone has had his share
of media attacks in the three decades he’s
been making movies. His personal character has been
called into question as well as his filmic treatment
of historic events. And, with JFK, even
In person, Stone is intelligent,
well spoken and proved quite knowledgeable about
Latin American history and culture as well as U.S.
economic and political issues. And, he appeared
remarkably handsome and well groomed. This isn’t
to say I expected a disheveled mess to walk into
the room, but I was taken aback by the man’s
dapper and impressive looks.
Stone is a force of nature, and
a pretty damn compelling one. He also happens to
be gracious, patient and sincere. Try sitting in
a room with journalists spitting questions at you
non-stop—some ridiculous—and see if
you can maintain your composure. Yet, he did. And
he spoke eloquently and passionately about South
of the Border, his new documentary feature
that deserves the kind of audience Michael Moore
films have found.
His co-writer, Tariq Ali, was
also hand for the interview.
The following are excerpts from
Oliver Stone’s responses to key questions
about his new film.
On how many hours of footage shot
Stone: I would say eight or nine hours.On
U.S. audiences vs. Latin American audiences
Stone: We screened in Bolivia for 6,000,
3,000 in Venezuela, 2,000 in Ecuador. They were
cheering at the good guys and hissing at the Generals
and the coup leaders…there’s much more
literacy now because of Chavez but they don’t
go to a lot of movies so this is all fresh to them.
Whereas in America I guess you have a very heavily
media-ized culture, but I don’t see any harm
in the film being seen by young people who might
be able to see things differently. Some journalists
are open-minded. (looks around the table) No? Some?
On why he wanted to make this
Stone: South America’s our backyard.
That’s the way we seem to regard it. They
never cause us problems. There are no wars. They
don’t go nuclear. They don’t have major
terrorism. They’ve been pretty quiet, haven’t
they? We’ve kept them quiet for 200 years.
...55 interventions. Interventions and coups in
Central and South America. I’m a global person.
I was there for Salvador. In 1985, I saw
a horror show. Honestly, if it hadn’t been
for Oliver North, thank God, they were gearing up.
There was much more troops there in Honduras, than
you know. Salvador was being used illicitly as a
base. And Costa Rica was being militarized. It was
an ugly situation. Guatemala was a disaster…so
all these issues come to fore because they’re
the underdog. We keep the boot on. That’s
why our posters have the eagle claw in it. We keep
the boot down. And we get rid of them individually
as they come along like in Chile or Argentina or
Brazil or Guatemala or Panama…we get rid of
them, every one of them. One at a time. But then,
boom, this time it’s kinda different, isn’t
it? Castro gave birth to an idea of independence
and now it’s come full circle. After 2001,
it happened and Castro said to me in an interview
in Comandante, “You will see the
pendulum shift." In 2001, we had not a clue
that Chavez was going to come along and do this.
Nor Kirshner in Argentina. Nor Lula. This is quite
significant, I think. They’re all unified.
That’s what’s bizarre. It never happened
before. There’s no known moment where six
major countries were unified like this. The only
bad guys, in my opinion—bad guys is my word—are
Peru with Garcia and Colombia with Santos.
On Hugo Chavez
Stone: I like the guy. What’s he done
wrong? He’s helping most of the people in
his country. He’s not a bad guy. If anything,
he is what he says he means. He’s maybe on
TV a little too much. He doesn’t have enough
of a filter. But he loves people. He’s a bit
like Clinton with all the reach and touch, that
pressing flesh thing. Chavez really respects the
law. He’s been elected over and over. It’s
ridiculous calling him a thug or a dictator or a
clown. It’s an insult to that country.
When you concentrate on somebody
and you go after every little flaw, it’s petty
because the big picture is so big and involves so
many countries and so much change whether he’s
a buffoon or a clown or says silly things is not
the issue to me, the objective he’s achieved
are enormous. He’s raised the gross national
product in his country by 90% in six years. It’s
just astounding that we’re blind to the big
On the depiction of the media
as mind controlling, targeting Chavez as our enemy
Stone: What would you think if there was
a coup d’etat against you and the next day
you found out the US was involved? He has reasons
to fear the United States. So every time he says
anything about us we report that he’s attacking
us, which is what the Castro technique was. Castro
was the one who almost got killed by us. Castro
is the one who got invaded by us. Once. And then
the second big invasion was planned. People forget
and Errol Morris didn’t do us any good with
that documentary by not reminding the American people
that the nuclear crisis came about as a result of
the US military preparing an invasion of Cuba. People
forget that. It’s so crazy. It’s always
cause and effect.
On the US recognizing South American
countries as their equal
Stone: (to Ali) You said at the end of the
movie, very beautifully, there’s a bridge
from the Hispanic population, coming this way. Partly
driven there by our destruction of agriculture…it’s
possible. Anything’s possible. Our country
has the hope of change but the system is always
stronger than the man who runs the presidency.
On the audience (and expections)
for the film
Stone: We didn’t expect one. We’re
very happy with the film. I thought we’re
lucky to get it on Venezuelan television because
America was so anti-Chavez, but we did far better
than we thought. We got it out to 30 countries.
England and America are coming now.
I was paying Chavez back for a
Secret History of the United States, that’s
my baby, a ten-hour movie I’m doing about
our country and I said to Chavez I’ll do it
for you but no ones gonna pay attention in this
country and I’m surprised…it’s
the little engine that could. We sold to American
On the Obama administration seeing
Stone: No luck there yet. Hillary Clinton
said she’d see it but I don’t think
she’s the right person to see it. She’s
been down there recently making trouble, trying
to split them all up amongst themselves. Obama should
On what can be done about the
Stone: Take the license away. Make it public
service again. Take out the profit motive. Mr. Reagan
is the guy who stripped the licensing in ’82
and he made it for profit. That changed the nature
of news in this country. It became about something
On narrative feature (Wall
Street 2) vs. documentary (South of the
Stone: One’s a feature film where you
have actors, script, costumes. It’s a big
deal, it takes time. It’s a story. You have
to make a story that is fun and people want to see.
Documentary goes right to the issue. It’s
more humble. It’s a lot cheaper, faster. They
have different kinds of goals. Different exercise.
But they don’t conflict. The more I think
about it they’re not opposed. Wall Street’s
the source of so much of the trouble in the world.
It’s not just America that’s suffers
from Wall Street; it’s the entire world that
suffered from the so-called neo-liberal economics
practiced by Wall Street banks.
On Obama’s bailing out the
Stone: Obama’s biggest failing is not
getting enough people back to work. That’s
the big issue. For the amount of money he’s
given the banks he could have gotten everyone back
to work. And more. So the question is ‘where
should the money have gone, the banks or the people?’
I think that’s a key question.
Amen to that!