Oliver Stone & Tariq Ali Interview
If you mention the name Oliver Stone you’re likely to hear one of the following in response: JFK or Nixon. Over the years the director has built up a reputation for being an intensely political filmmaker although his last presedential biopic W. did not garner the same gushing platitudes awarded to his work based on the aformentioned giants of the international stage. The veteran director has since turned his attention to the south, devouting countless hours to interviewing leaders from all over South America from the Kirchners of Argentina to the Bolivian president Juan Evo Morales. He also took time to film Fidel Castro at length (not wanting to leave America’s fondest enemy feeling left out) and is due to release another documentary based on the Cuban leader later in the year.
Oliver Stone’s newest documentary South of the Border has already attracted swathes of criticism with the director accused of treating his subjects with too soft a touch. Stone has never been a director who appreciates grey areas – he prefers to forego that in favour of blanket statements and bold announcements that, more often than not, agitate just as much as they inspire argument. Stone and Tariq Ali (author of The Obama Syndrome amongst other works) met with journalists at Freud Communications to discuss South Of The Border as well as future projects including a ten hour secret history of the United States that had tongues wagging and inspired fevered anticipation.
How did you become involved in the movie?
TA: Oliver rang me up when he was filming in Paraguay to discuss a much more interesting project: a ten hour secret history of America for HBO. After we discussed this idea a few months later he showed me the rough cut of this film and it was a bit messy. It got bogged down in the wrong terrain – namely the US media which is a hornet’s nest at the best of time – so we redid the structure and redid the script and it turned into what it is now which is a political road movie.
Why did you choose this project?
OS: I was speaking to Hugo Chavez for this documentary and he told me to go and speak to the leaders of South American countries and see for myself what it is happening. Real reform is taking place. There are very powerful forces to contend with; the church, the military and US intervention – they’re all obstacles to reform but they’re beginning to be challenged and dealt with.
Your films deal with the subjects of power and how people use power… Does power fascinate you?
OS: I’m a dramatist, I like the big picture. I think the big picture is what matters with the Chavez story because all the nitpicking that takes place in the Western media is just that – nitpicking. It’s a very Western mindset. It’s picking things apart in order to find a tiny flaw so that you can say the whole is off. The NY Times did that when they reviewed this movie. The events taking place in South America and the changes that have already taken place are incredible.
TA: The changes we’ve already see in these countries are quite staggering. There are politicians who make promises to the poor and carry them through. There’s a link between the social movements and the politicians and the two compliment each other, they need one another. Politicians have to implement the changes they’ve promised and proposed.
Where do Americans go for a more balanced view?
OS: To the madhouse! To the lithium, to more drugs! I don’t know where they should go.
TA: I’d tell them to watch BBC World.
Which of the countries you visited do you think will maintain a solid base and which are likely to slip back into chaos?
OS: When I showed this film in Bolivia a couple of weeks ago it was met by cheering crowds. Meanwhile Hilary Clinton was next door in Ecuador trying to drive a wedge between them and Venezuala. The State Department are the same people who have always been in this region. Obama is Bush light. We’ll see what happens in two years from now.
You say Chavez has been unfairly represented in the media. Do you think the same of Ahmadinejad and would you consider basing a project around him as has been hinted at?
OS: I don’t know. That’s a hot potato for me. Obviously he’s had some bad press…
TA: They’re very different politicians. Ahmadinejad is a deeply religious person who is the head of a country that is still being lead by clerics. Then there were the deaths at the student demonstrations which were totally unacceptable. He’s not a leader like the [South American] leaders.
But he’s supported by Chavez…
TA: They have a shared common interest, that of oil. Iran has huge reserves of oil that Chavez needs. Chavez has decided to deal with him differently and not demonise Iran. He’s refused to which is exactly what he should do. That doesn’t make them the same type of leader.
The US Presidents you’ve so far made films about have had careers either embroiled by scandal or have been associated with momentous events in American history. Can you see yourself making a film about Obama?
OS: At the moment, no – but never say never.
Do you think W. will be reassessed by the people who criticised in years to come?
OS: Yes, I think it holds the water. I think it’s entertaining and has a good narrative. It’s a tough story to tell because he’s an intensely unlikeable man but Josh Brolin inhabited that role and made him empathetic. As a man without a clue he has a certain charm but whether or not he should be president is another matter entirely.
Can we learn anything about economics from South America?
OS: Yes, oil should be public. It shouldn’t be owned by these huge companies. The people should own their local resources and have greater control over it in order to save the environment and keep their economy lively and healthy.
Was it inevitable you would return to make a second Wall Street movie?
OS: Yes I loved the idea of it – it’s my first franchise movie! It’s ironic a movie about business should become a business. I was nicely recompensed to come back to the project some 20 years later. I can’t believe that era of exaggerated wealth didn’t end in the 1980s. It’s amazing it’s been allowed to continue. The difference is banks are no longer banks. Everything is much more volatile now. When I went back to Wall Street I was struck by how the country appeared to be being run by artificial intelligence. Everything is run by computers seemingly out of control of the humans supposedly operating them. Who would want to invest in this economy anyway? You can’t invest in anything, you won’t make any interest? The banks have been a total disaster and this reform bill has done nothing to rectify it.