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Oliver Stone: South of the Border

Dazed Digital sits down with the controversial director to talk about his two polar opposite films of 2010 and who the funniest politician in South America is

"And this is where we're building the Iranian atomic bomb" President Hugo Chavez says smiling, pointing at a building in Venezuela's capital Caracas. For a man who's sincerely disliked by a big portion of Western society, Chavez has a great sense of humour. And when he's not hanging out with super model Naomi Campbell, he's showing American film director Oliver Stone where the army officer come politician grew up (hilariously, Chavez's weight breaks the BMX kid bicycle he sits on while riding around the spot where his childhood house used to stand). The chat, plus Stone's trip to a handful of other socialist countries on the continent, is part of the filmmaker's second 2010 cinema release, South of the Border. After interviewing Fidel Castro in 2003, Stone must have felt like infuriating right wing America even more, and went to Venezuela to find out for himself what was going on 'down south'.

Only months after the release of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Stone is back in the headlines with South of the Border, which he pitches somewhere between a documentary and a feature film. The first half an hour is a collage of comments from US news readers and opinion makers. No matter what side you agree with, it is painstakingly clear that there's a high level of media ignorance towards both Chavez as a person and the beliefs he, together with a few other South American politicians, stand for. Like many other Stone films, this one will evoke emotions. Not everyone, many Europeans included, have failed to be impressed by Chavez and his political comrades. In the film, this suspicon is dealt with by the former Argentinean president, Néstor Kirchner, who said he "hadn't seen any other dictators win as many elections". Dazed sat down with Oliver Stone and fellow film maker and South American expert Tariq Ali...

Dazed Digital: What was the main ambition, the main thought behind making the film? Did you want to show Americans and Europeans a different side to South American politics?
Oliver Stone: Yeah, I did. I think that was the motivation, I think Chavez made it possible because I went and interviewed him, he was very accessible and open and he said 'don’t just believe in me, ask others', He sent us to six of his neighbours and we heard it from them too that there’s a change going on in this continent. I’ve obviously heard huge criticisms of Chavez that seemed to focus on him as another dictator. It’s a real 'right' versus 'left' battle in the sense that it’s been focused on Chavez and his personality cult as opposed it being about a real structural reform.

DD: So you went down there to see Chavez and you ended up seeing all these other guys…
Oliver Stone: More importantly, we went to see the economy, to see the change in the mentality, the concept of independence from the United States!

DD: The change of mentalities in their own countries?
Oliver Stone: Yes, the mentalities in their countries. Independence from the United States, not a fear of mutual respect. This is a very important concept that we have not, that the United States, have not learnt. Mutual respect. If the guy from Ecuador says to the US 'I will give you a base in my country, but I want a base in Miami', he’s saying it very clearly, why should you have a base, why should we have six or seven bases in Columbia, why? We should ask ourselves what gives us the right to interdict our point of view on their situation.

DD: But did you feel that also want to show the American audience what was going on in South America?
Oliver Stone: I wanted to show them enough already, can’t you wake up? Is this Empire completely insane? That we are actually harming the people in the world, we’re constantly fighting against the people that are trying to help them.

DD: I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but there were scenes that were actually quite funny, we found ourselves laughing in the audience.
Oliver Stone: No, I think we took the approach to keep it relaxed - which we don’t do, we don’t get that in our country, but I don’t know about England.

DD: On that note, where did you have the most fun, where did you enjoy yourself the most - who was the funniest President to hang out with?
Oliver Stone: I think they're all very honest people, they’re people from the people. They represent their countries, they want change so they tend to be serious reformers. It’s a hard job because they’re always being criticised. Evo Morales [Bolivia's President] is an Indian, he doesn’t laugh very much…
Tariq Ali: He can be lighthearted but he’s very restrained whereas Chavez has an enormous sense of humour.
Oliver Stone: Yeah, I’d say Chavez is probably the funniest out them all!

DD: Is it a coincidence that you’ve released two films this year that are about financial opposites in a way? There’s one about capitalism and one about socialism?
Oliver Stone: Yeah, there’s a lot of truth to the fact that Wall Street is responsible for a lot of the economic misery of South America. But Wall Street is a dual use system, like nuclear weapons, and it is an engine for much good in the world. The movie is a different beast altogether, because it’s an entertainment vehicle. But in that movie, Shia LaBeouf is a young man who is an idealist trying to good with capitalism. He’s basically working for advancement of a clean energy company.

DD: So you’ve managed to find an angle in that as well?
Oliver Stone: Oh, Wall Street does a lot of good, my father worked there. I’m not condemning everyone at Wall Street.

DD: And, obviously with the first bit in South of the Border with the news collage showing news readers and so on…
Oliver Stone: It’s a matrix. The reality has been flipped on its head. They really have achieved an Orwellian world where peace is war and freedom is slavery, kind of concept. [Laughs]. Think about it - Orwell couldn’t have written it. Orwell would think this is a nightmare. If you confuse people if you say the earth is flat and the earth is circular, well it can’t be both therefore the earth is going to be kind of a combination. The concept of the earth is flat is acceptable. No?

DD: Do you think that the political landscape has change greatly since Obama took over? I mean the American attitudes towards Latin America?
Oliver Stone: No! [laughs]

DD: But is that because you think he hasn’t done enough?
Oliver Stone: No, it’s the same state department down there, the same group of people, there’s been no reform. Obama has kept the same people in power. Hilary Clinton has gone down there several times. She’s been more to the right than Obama has. [Bold] She’s been critical of Chavez, she’s been trying to divide these people from each other.

DD: Can you see any change on the horizon?
Oliver Stone: No, not yet, but Obama did shake their hands, and that gave them hope.

DD: What was the reaction to the film in the United States?
Oliver Stone: At best they said ‘Oh, I like the film, it’s engaging, I follow it’. But it’s obviously not true!

DD: Looking at the films you’ve done over the years – both feature and documentaries – there are often political undertones. Are you driven by a social or political agenda?
Oliver Stone: No, I think for me it’s been a personal journey towards enlightenment or trying to find out what happened. I was raised completely on the other side, in a republican, ethno centric American privileged school. Castro was a bad guy, communism was monolithic, I grew up with the standard clichés. And in the 60s I went to war in Vietnam, as a willing soldier. And I don’t think my education really began till I got brain washed in the 70s.

DD: So you wouldn’t say that you have some sort of radical plan?
Oliver Stone: No, I’m trying to find out what works. I mean I didn’t know about South America till I went there. You have to find your way in this life. Castro is a monster in the united states, what I did with Castro is amazing because I still can’t believe I did it. I didn’t realise I’d get in to such hot water. I am rather naïve.

DD: What's next for you?
Oliver Stone: We’re doing a 'Secret History of the United States'. It's a ten hour long documentary. I’m trying to show the bigger patterns, the story and the things that were reported but unremembered. And im trying to go into the whole issue of how the US shaped itself from 1900 to 2010 into this empire...

DD: Wow, and when is that due?
Oliver Stone: It comes out in the cinemas next year hopefully...