Oliver Stone, 'South Of The Border' Tour Guide

Oliver Stone and Hugo Chavez i i

Director Oliver Stone and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez greeted by the press. Jose Ibanez hide caption

itoggle caption Jose Ibanez
Oliver Stone and Hugo Chavez

Director Oliver Stone and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez greeted by the press.

Jose Ibanez

Oliver Stone won Oscars for blockbuster films like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. He has also been a controversial political commentator and documentary film maker.

His latest film, South of the Border, explores Latin America's shift toward socialism led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Stone tells NPR's Neal Conan what it was like to meet and film with Chavez, in addition to the leaders of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Cuba's current leader, Fidel Castro's brother, Raul.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

Now Oliver Stone, one of the great filmmakers of our time - he made "Wall Street" and "JFK," won three Academy Awards, including Best Director for the blockbusters "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July." His follow-up, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," is due out later this year. Throughout though, Stone also makes documentaries.

In 2003, both "Persona Non Grata" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and "Comandante," where he spent several days with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In his latest documentary, Stone returns to Latin America to focus on another controversial head of state, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and goes on to speak with the leaders of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and with the current leader in Cuba, Fidel's brother, Raul Castro. He showed "South of the Border" at the Silverdocs Film Festival yesterday at the American Film Institute Silver Theater here in Washington, D.C. The film is now playing in select cities across the country.

If you have questions for Oliver Stone on his work or about his new film, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Oliver Stone joins us now from his hotel in Washington. Nice to have you on the program with us today.

Mr. OLIVER STONE (Film Director): Hi, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you. You argue in the film that - well, I'm going to play a clip from here - that most of us had a highly distorted image of Hugo Chavez. And there's a montage of clips from Fox News. Well, here's about 20 seconds worth.

(Soundbite of film, "South of the Border")

Unidentified Man #1: The Venezuelan president has become more dangerous to the U.S. than Fidel Castro ever was.

Unidentified Woman: Exxon Mobil says it's been ripped off by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Unidentified Man #2: The Latin-American strong man...

Unidentified Man #3: There is such a thing as a killer clown and he may be it.

Mr. JOHN ROBERTS (Journalist, CNN): He is more dangerous than bin Laden. And the effects of Chavez, his war against America, could eclipse those of 9/11.

CONAN: And much of your film attempts to say, wait a minute, there's a little bit more to this.

Mr. STONE: Yeah, there is. Yeah. Am I talking now?

CONAN: Yes.

Mr. STONE: Okay. So, look, I mean, first of all, I mean it's not opening today. I just want to make clear that's opening in New York City, one theater Friday, and then it opens up gradually over the next few weeks in various cities in United States.

CONAN: Okay, thank you.

Mr. STONE: Two, film is not really only about Chavez. It's about a big -much bigger issue to me, which is South America. There are six countries there under UNASUR, who are united in their condemnation of the United States meddling in their region and the International Monetary Fund. And they are, each one, in their different ways, with their different societies, are dedicated to the concept of preserving their own resources and returning them to people. And they're going about it in a way - in reform measures.

All - Brazil, Ecuador - you didn't mentioned Paraguay, where there was a Catholic priest who was elected democratically. All these leaders were elected democratically. This is amazing moment in time. There are six countries, never happened before, where there were six individual countries at the same time who wanted independence from the United States.

CONAN: And why do you think that is happening at this particular moment?

Mr. STONE: Because I think, because of the neoliberal economics of Reagan and Thatcher and that era. The 1980s had brought devastating poverty to much of Latin America and Asia and Africa. I think it backfired and there was revolts, natural revolts from the people in Bolivia and Venezuela and in Argentina. And there was a change in government with democratically elected new leaders emerging, people who came from the people, people who were actually born in the lower classes often and worked their way up honestly, not the old corrupt oligarchs and leaders and the educated elite from the Americas that used to rule over most of Latin American.

CONAN: There are some identified in the film as people from - from the American point of view, the good left, and that would be Lula da Silva in Brazil, and people from the bad left, which would be Hugo Chavez.

Mr. STONE: And you might include Evo Morales too, well, yeah, and Raul Carrera from Ecuador.

CONAN: Yes. And why do you think that distinction, because they...

Mr. STONE: The distinction was made in America, not by them.

CONAN: Ah. And why do they see - what - Brazil and Venezuela and Bolivia are very different places.

Mr. STONE: Of course they're much different. They're different societies, different backgrounds, different languages. But Lula and Chavez have expressed tremendous support and admiration for each other over the years. There are differences here and there, but overall it's very clear from the film that they're brothers. They consider themselves brothers. Lula has supported Chavez constantly. And recently, by the way, Chavez - Lula of Brazil has been condemned by the U.S. for so-called meddling in their Iran policy. Now, this raises a whole distinction of what, you know, what is meddling in our - is America the policeman of the world? Do we decide who will - that we are going to run the world by our rules? Are not Brazil and Turkey allowed to talk to Iran? And they actually did come up with a uranium swap there. So some -and by the way, at the security council, they voted - Turkey and Brazil voted on the security council against - vetoed the - against - I mean, voted against the resolution on sanctions in Iran.

CONAN: They're members of the security council at the moment but not the permanent five members. They're the only ones with the...

Mr. STONE: Yeah. That's the first time its happened, I gather.

CONAN: On the occasions of the sanctions against Iran, I believe it's the first time it has not been unanimous or at least with one country abstaining. Lebanon also abstained in that particular vote.

Mr. STONE: That's correct. It's quite something. It's - in other words, there is a third bloc. There was, when I grew up in the 1950s, there was a neutral bloc. It was made up of great nations like Egypt, like India, like Indonesia. And in Africa, there was Kwame Nkrumah. There was a leader - a group of leaders who emerged and that has - and that concept was eroded as each one was destabilized, often by United States' participation against them.

So, you know, now here we are in this post-Soviet world and we're alone. Were trying to ride it out alone, it won't work. China is too big. Venezuela is too big. Russia is way too big. Turkey, by the way, is a regional power. And America seems to want to dominate the world. And these regional powers are, I think, are a very strong and good antidote to our policies.

CONAN: This film was made in the last days of the Bush administration. And there is hope presented in the form of a newly-elected President Barack Obama at the end. Do you think those policies have changed in the year and a half...

Mr. STONE: No, I don't think so and the film says it, but it doesn't say - excuse me, the film doesn't say it. And it ends on the note, because it was made in 2009, of hope. And, unfortunately, I am hoping and I think they are still hoping. But the behavior of United States in the Honduras coup was very disheartening to all of them, and it was universally condemned as a coup. United States did nothing to get that guy out. And now there's a new president who they're saying is illegally elected. So journalists have been killed in Honduras, people tortured. There's - we're back to the old ways. And America was standing - stood on the sidelines. So there was no action.

Also, America expanded under Obama its seven military bases in Colombia. This was a deadly thing to do. Why do we need military bases there? Why, I wonder. We have to ask ourselves. But that, nonetheless, war on drugs is perceived by the rest of them as a war to - of control and of espionage. So, in addition to that, we have also have the four fleet sailing around the waters of South America, which also is a offensive to them. So we don't - you know, what they're asking is mutual respect. They want mutual respect. This is the first time in centuries we've heard that fired back at us from South America. Often, there was one leader in the past who came along, said this kind of things in Guatemala in '54, Arbenz or Allende in Chile, in Argentina, in Brazil.

Separately, and at part, we took them down each one. And now we have a situation where we're working active with them to scramble up, to disunify this group and to take each out - each of these leaders out. And we can because they're democratically elected. And we can always influence elections with money and all the other dirty tricks learned from Nixon. So it's an interesting and ugly situation, but it doesn't -America is still going against the concept of reform, the concept that these people are trying to help the poor. And we always end up on the side of corporations, which brings us back to our situation in this country. And, you know, we are beholden to corporations. We are a corporate-governed state. And I - we seem to be fighting. This is an epic, primal struggle. And America, of course, is coming down on the side of the corporations.

CONAN: Here's an email from Bryan(ph) in Iowa City. Could you ask Oliver Stone how he justifies President Chavez silencing media outlets that criticize him? Would he support an American president shutting down similar media outlets?

Mr. STONE: Oh, that's - you know, this is part of the propaganda war that's been waged against Chavez since the beginning. This is, you know, this is a man, first of all, who's elected three times democratically. Hes also held close to 12 other elections. And each one - not each one, but most of them have been monitored by international organizations such as the European Union Commission, also the Jimmy Carter organization. They have an electronic ballot and they have a paper ballot, which makes them far more transparent democracy than our joke in Florida of 2000. So, you know, let's get off that crap that's been passing around.

Now, the media in Venezuela is outspoken and vibrant and angry. They are owned mostly by private media families, very rich families, very few. They can - and they - their venom is beyond belief. You have to go walk around and you'll see it for yourself. It's like Fox News on steroids down there. And, you know, we have situations where occasionally some of the media stations call for the overthrow of the government or step over the line and do things that are illegal. In our country, we take their license away, and they're doing the same damn thing in Venezuela. Most of the media is completely outrageous. And if you want to go right now to your BlackBerry, pick it up and look at any one of the stations in Venezuela, look what they're writing about him and it's all junk and negative.

And one thing that resembles the American media, it's a war. It's a war of the media against a guy like Chavez. We can declare a war on these people and we get away with it for a certain time. We call it human rights. We call it terrorism violations. We go after them again and again and again until we get them. If we can't get them that way, we put - guess what? We go to plan B. Usually, it's something military.

CONAN: We're talking with director Oliver Stone. His new film is "South of the Border." As he mentioned, it opens on Friday in New York, and then later in other cities around the country. Can I ask you, why do you - if you - if this film succeeds in the documentary world very well, it would be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. If you make - if your film "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" succeeds, itll be seen by many millions of people. Why do you continue to make documentaries?

Mr. STONE: Because theyre - you know, it's a form of exercise where you want to stay close to the field. You want to do the research. You want to stay in touch with people. It's a humbling form because usually it's very fast and not a lot of money to make. And you make it because it cleans you up. It makes you feel better, you know.

Movies - I love movies but they are tremendous effort. They take more than a year. They involve costumes, script, actors. And they have their rewards, certainly. They're big and I enjoy making them if I can make the right movie. But it's a system where you have this tremendous marketing cost and all that. And a documentary, you know, we're making the movie because, really, we consider that's a public service to the American people too.

CONAN: Oliver Stone. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get a caller up. This is Caroline(ph), Caroline calling us from Anchorage.

CAROLINE (Caller): Good morning. Or good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon where we are, but, yes. Go ahead, please.

CAROLINE: I had wanted to ask - first of all, Im very proud of what you do and appreciate that there's someone out there doing these kinds of films. I know you're not alone in that. And if this were the '50s, you'd be blacklisted.

Mr. STONE: Sure.

CAROLINE: But I wanted to ask, what do you think was the impact of your experience in Vietnam on how you see how this country operates?

Mr. STONE: Well, it's pretty - (unintelligible) a young man. I grew up here during Cold War. I was - and we know and then one day (unintelligible). There is - even now there's a revisionist approach. Even with the McChrsytal affair, they're saying, you know, that they're going to say, you know, the military was betrayed in Afghanistan by the president. I can see that coming down the tubes.

It's always been this way in America. We've been in this military security gridlock ever since the World War II. So, I'm fighting against it my way. I have a documentary, another documentary I've been working on for two years, more than two years. It's called "The Secret History of the United States" and it goes 10 hours, actually. It's going to be on Showtime early next year.

And it's a lot of work, believe me, to do a documentary. But I'd like to leave something for my kids besides the usual brainwashing that they get in their history books.

CAROLINE: I thank you very much. And I wanted to give you a quick challenge, if you could. My thesis is that we will never have peace until we figure out a way for the corporations to make money on it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: Very good. Very good, indeed. And that's a very well and wise statement. You've lived long enough to know.

CONAN: Caroline, thanks very much for the call.

CAROLINE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Obviously, when you're making your feature documentaries, well, they're sponsored by corporations, and corporations make a lot of the profits there.

Mr. STONE: Feature documentaries? No.

CONAN: No, feature films, I'm talking about.

Mr. STONE: Oh, feature films. I'm sorry - yeah, I have to work inside the system. And so, by the way, I work any way I can. I sometimes get feature funding from a studio. Sometimes I get independently. Sometimes I have to go, like with "W.," the movie I did on George Bush, it was financed from France and Hong Kong, primarily, and Australia.

CONAN: And the new Wall Street movie, is that...

Mr. STONE: The Wall Street movie was with Century Fox. They own the original. I worked with them back in 1987. And they were very cooperative and helpful, and they did not interfere creatively in my process. And the movie represents my point of view.

CONAN: And as we look ahead to it, we remember Gordon Gekko, of course, famously from the first film. I gather Michael Douglas reappears...

Mr. STONE: That's right.

CONAN: ...and is the star of the - is it fair to say he's the star of the second film?

Mr. STONE: He's the - yeah, okay. He's the older star of the second film. Shia LaBeouf is the younger star. Josh Brolin is the (unintelligible) star. Carrey Mulligan is the daughter. And Frank Langella is the mentor, the older mentor of Shia LaBeouf.

CONAN: And given recent events on Wall Street, do you see the first film as sort of, well, you have the opportunity now to tell a completely...

Mr. STONE: Well, it's the same story, redux - absurd - what's the word?

CONAN: Reductio ad absurdum.

Mr. STONE: Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: My Latin fails me. Now, it's gone on. I was shocked because in the '87 film, I thought it was over, that era. But it just kept subtly going on. The greed factor, as Caroline pointed out in the phone call, has driven our corporations to the point of excess. Not just our corporations, not just - but the bank themselves have changed their very nature. They are no longer what the banks I knew in '87. They became essentially private casinos funded by the government and - for losses when they were bailed out, you know. And the bailout was enormous and they got the money, not the people who are unemployed or losing their jobs. So we've come a long way down.

And by the way, Gekko is, in the new movie, is broke at the beginning of the movie. So he has to find a way to back - to get back in. But he has another ballgame to play, which is he realizes the banks control the ballgame.

So it's not just them, but it's the big banks, the big insurance companies. It's - the country's gotten bigger, bigger, bigger. We - Wal-Mart's bigger. We have a bigger empire abroad. We have the Pentagon. We have Afghanistan, Iran. We - Iraq, and now probably Iran, maybe. And now, you know, we're losing it. We can't get - we're too big, Neal. We're just too big, and you can't - it reaches a place of overreach. What happened with McChrystal is interesting because it feels like the praetorian guard with the Roman Empire now.

CONAN: Oliver Stone, good luck with the new film.

Mr. STONE: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Oliver Stone's new film, "South of the Border," opens in New York City on Friday, and then gradually in other theaters and other cities around the country. He joined us today on the phone from his hotel here in Washington D.C.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, a look at the science of medical marijuana. Can smoking pot be good for your health? Talk to you again on Monday. Have a good weekend, everybody.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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