Oliver Stone: ‘George Bush will go down in history as one of the great baddies’
Campaign News | Friday, 24 September 2004
Statement at the San Sebastian Film Festival caught the attention of the media and shocked most journalists
BY ROLANDO PÉREZ BETANCOURT-Granma daily staff writer-
“STREET demonstrations in favor of Fidel Castro are not a fake. If they were, those demonstrators should win an Oscar for best acting. I can testify to this because I have seen the joy on their faces when people come up to the president.”
Every morning, if possible, I search for the cinema-related news that reaches our newspaper. We are currently receiving reports and information concerning what is being shown and commentaries from the 52nd San Sebastian International Film Festival. Lately, the media covering the festival focused their attention on U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone, who arrived at the festival from Paris-where he was finishing editing a super-production on Alexander the Great, which has taken him three years of work-to premiere his movie Looking for Fidel, to be shown at this festival in the non-competition category.
In this documentary, Stone focuses on Cuba’s reaction to the 2003 hijacking of aircraft and marine vessels, part of a plot to destabilize the island, facilitated by the Cuban Adjustment Act, a lethal piece of U.S. legislation that throughout the years has incited Cubans to leave the island illegally for the United States.
This article opens with a quote by Oliver Stone, director of Platoon, JFK, and Salvador, films that amazed the world of cinema. That statement was made by the filmmaker at a press conference where reporters collectively described him as “sweaty and tired,” after working long hours on the editing of Alexander, but also emphasized Stone’s passion to discuss Cuba and the two documentary pieces he produced in our country. The first of these documentaries, Comandante, was shown here at the New Cinema of Latin American Festival but not in Stone’s country since “censorship in the United States has trespassed all reasonable limits.”
The reason for censoring Comandante is primarily that such a “harsh and critical” filmmaker as Oliver allowed Fidel to “seduce” him, as well as Stone’s documentation of facts (and behind-the-scene details) and specific issues about his own society, as well as this decisive moment faced by humanity because, according to Stone’s perspective: “President Bush has set the world on fire.”
After having read over 40 pages - news wires and reports on Stone’s press conference in San Sebastian - I have tried to summarize the part that, while highlighting the filmmaker’s admiration for the Cuban Revolution and Fidel, spell out the journalists’ inevitable ‘whys’.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this article, to the moment when reporters asked Oliver Stone if he “had changed his opinion about Cuba and Fidel Castro after his two documentaries on the country.” The filmmaker claimed that he had learned more about the man than about the country: “In Cuba, I observed an openness and freedom that I had not found in any other country in the region, the Caribbean or Central America. I have met many world leaders in Panama, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, but have never seen the kind of spontaneous affection for a leader expressed on the streets as I have seen in Cuba towards Fidel.”
The journalist in question pressed the point: “But didn’t those walks and the masses surrounding their leader in the movie look staged?” Stone remarks: “They were totally spontaneous. We have visited several hospitals where they could have been expecting us, but having looked at people’s faces, I know that none of this was a fake. I have directed actors and I know when people are pretending and when they are not. Castro repeatedly asked me where I wanted to go next, and wherever we went, people would spontaneously come up to him. Where else in the world would this happen?”
After assuring: “I admire Fidel because he is a survivor. He has survived several U.S. presidents who have tried to eliminate him,” Stone emphasized that he also admired Fidel because of “his self confidence and honesty.” The filmmaker confirmed that Castro “is one of the few world presidents who does not have one cent stashed abroad, and, at the same time, has brought his people to such a high educational level.”
The next question: “Can you imagine George W. Bush, Tony Blair or any other world leader undergoing the kind of intense and harsh interrogation you have put Castro through in Looking for Fidel?”
“No, I could not picture that.”
When asked his opinion on the upcoming elections in the United States, Stone crossed his fingers and answered: “When Gore lost, or rather, when they stole the elections from him, I sensed that something dirty was going to happen, but the harm has already been done and its extent is very significant. Now, I am praying that something of that sort does not occur once again. George Bush will go down in history as one of the great baddies.” A reporter asked: “What kind of power does the anti-Castro lobby in the United States have?”
“To start with, anti-Castro groups were vital in implementing the dirty business of the butterfly ballots ensuring Bush’s victory at the 2000 elections. The right wing is the same everywhere, in Cuba or Viet Nam. It is like an octopus, snatching everything with its tentacles. They control the Internet, radio and TV stations, and newspapers. But above all, they are perfectly organized. Right wingers master the art of negative publicity and are capable of destroying the image of anyone they consider to be their enemy. They annihilate anything opposed to their interests, utilizing mass emailing, articles, and reports. In the United States, censorship is the order of the day. It is really sad to think that Florida may end up deciding the November elections once again, and that the extreme-right wing, including anti-Castro groups, may manipulate the results for a second time. These people are blinded by patriotic fanaticism and are ready to invade any country, and shoot down planes if necessary. They thought that my first movie about Castro, Comandante, was hideous, and they killed it almost before it was even born. They were merely afraid of it.”
“When I went to Viet Nam, I was very ignorant about the role of the United States in the world. My country has an enormous military complex including oil industries and energy resources. The United States is a giant predator that has been growing steadily since I was a child. It takes several years to wake up. Viet Nam is a part of that world, like a Kafka-style nightmare.”
Asked about the U.S. war on terrorism, Stone pointed out: “They say they are fighting terrorism, but it is precisely them who are financing it.” He gave the example of the 1976 hijacking of a Cubana Aviation passenger plane, perpetrated by Luis Posada Carriles, who obtained funding from the United States, and is now a fugitive still utilizing those same funds.
Regarding the “crucial question of the so-called dissidents,” Stone answered: “I ask myself: what are the rights of political dissidents in Guatemala or El Salvador, where they cut your tongue if you complain and archbishops are executed, or in other Latin American countries where the United States has annihilated democracies and replaced them with military juntas representing its interests? Let’s look at things from Fidel Castro’s viewpoint. What would happen if Cuba was to open up? The next day, the CIA would be there, publishing newspapers and controlling TV stations, corrupting people with their dollars and trying to get rid of Castro with the same crude techniques that they use on the rest of the planet, either in Central America, Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf. As Fidel already points out in the movie, Washington only accepts its enemies’ unconditional surrender. It’s awful.”
And on the blockade?
“Bush would have immediately declared war if someone had imposed an embargo such as the one enforced on Cuba on his administration. The claim that a small island in the Caribbean represents a threat to the security of a giant like the United States is ridiculous. The U.S. president lacks morals, and if he needs to exploit the issue of the Cuban threat to win the elections in Florida, he will do so without delay. It would not surprise me if something unexpected happened in October.”
Is the United States now more polarized than ever?
“Yes, that of my country is becoming more violent and negative every day, and one that is not going anywhere. Bush has never been interested in consensus. In the year 2000, as we have unfortunately come to learn, a dangerous radical with a huge hidden agenda was hiding behind the mask of a compassionate conservative. This is a shame and a tragedy. The world would be completely different today had Bush not stolen the elections from Gore. Bush is only adding more fuel to the fire. He is a slave and the puppet of the large weapons and oil companies which put him into office.”
That is how things are nowadays; one starts by talking about cinema and ends discussing the (global) topic of a world on the brink of a conflagration.