AL: Do you hope to make a film here in the future?
OS: We explored [making a film in Cambodia] briefly when I was about to make Beyond Borders in 2000 or so. That was with Angelina Jolie – a United Nations, NGO film. But I never made it. That was a very interesting time, because part of the country was still controlled by the Khmer Rouge, up north and in the northwest. The refugee camps, and the entire Thai border, were in a very difficult situation, very political. It would have been a hell of a hard film to pull off I have to say. The film [eventually directed by Martin Campbell] didn’t do well, but it was a tricky subject.
AL: Many of the films that you’ve made during your career contain violence or deal with war, yet you’re in Cambodia bringing a message of peace. How can films featuring war and violence promote peace?
OS: You can only get peace through violence. Peace comes, because you know what violence is. It’s a Buddhist concept. You come to the world by way of violent birth. A baby knows pain right away, so he knows the concept of violence because he comes from his mother’s womb through a violent process. I think that’s part of life. And that’s what I’m trying to say in Natural Born Killers. I got a lot of heat [for the film], but I was saying ‘Look at this violence, it’s part of a process’. I’ve dealt with violence in Vietnam and other places, and I’ve showed it in films very effectively. In Born on the 4th of July for example, I showed what the violence of a bullet can do to a spine, and a man’s life. What we’re doing in America and western societies in the media, is to promote violence because we make money off it. Media and television love the concept of murder, death, and grisly news, because it makes money. So that was what [Natural Born Killers] was about. Violence is here - I think that by promoting it we only hurt ourselves further.
AL: So you’re saying you can promote peace through films that portray the negative sides of violence?
OS: You have to, because otherwise people won’t react. You have to show what’s wrong - you don’t make a show about cancer and not show cancer. Sanitised, peaceful, ridiculous, films don’t work because people don’t go to see them. There has to be a bit of spice, a bit of salt in the wound. The audience has to go through the suffering and pain, to understand the beauty. That’s the way it is. But I don’t believe in needless, fortuitous violence, which is just for money – the kind of movie where the hero is just taking revenge and being a vigilante, and kicking ass. It makes you feel good because you have the actor revenging. I really hate that in movies, I don’t believe in revenge. I believe in getting it right, but not revenge. I think there’s too much of that indulgence.
AL: You’ve said that your experiences during the Vietnam War profoundly changed you. In what way?
OS: In the way I just spoke of. I think violence is a part of life, but it’s to be thought of, and analysed, and avoided. Where you can, do no harm. Do not kill if you can avoid it. Practice mercy, compassion and justice – try.
AL: What is your next project?
OS: I’m doing The Secret History of the United States, a ten-hour documentary. It’s going to be on Showtime this year. We’ve been working on it for two years. It’s a documentary about the national security state from about 1900 until now. But it’s not chronologically done, instead it is done in a very investigative, film-like way. It’s a story that young people can watch, hour by hour. For me, it’s also an educating tool because it’s written by two historians and I’m popularising it. Purists may cry foul, by it’s certainly an important project that shows how our country was shaped by fear, hysteria, and paranoia.
AL: What are your predictions for the upcoming Academy Awards?
OS: I don’t give a shit... I think it was a very good year, films were good. I remember the press denouncing movies saying it was over, that’s it’s about streaming video and the internet. It’s bullshit. The films this year delivered. Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air, Crazy Hands, It’s Complicated, Hangover... There were so many good films that really worked. People get down on films so easily. Magazines get awful snobbish and snooty sometimes, and I think they miss the point of what movies are supposed to be – great stories on screen.
Oliver Stone’s visit to Phnom Penh forms part of the ongoing Bridges lecture series, organised by the International Peace Foundation. For more information, please visit www.peace-foundation.net