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South of the Border Roundtable
With Director Oliver Stone
Regency Hotel
June 21, 2010

Written and Photographed by Frank J. Avella

Click here for Frank J. Avella's Review of South of the Border


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 persona.

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 his sanity.

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

Oliver Stone: I would say eight or nine hours.On U.S. audiences vs. Latin American audiences

Oliver 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 film

Oliver 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

Oliver 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 facts.

On the depiction of the media as mind controlling, targeting Chavez as our enemy

Oliver 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

Oliver 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

Oliver 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 Showtime.

On the Obama administration seeing the film

Oliver 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 see it.

On what can be done about the U.S. media

Oliver 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 else.

On narrative feature (Wall Street 2) vs. documentary (South of the Border)

Oliver 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 banks

Oliver 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!






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