Oliver Stone in Cambodia

www.asialifeguide.com, 27 January 2010


In Phnom Penh for the Bridges lecture series, famed film director and producer Oliver Stone talks to AsiaLIFE’s Nora Lindstrom about how peace comes through violence, and who he thinks will come up on top in the upcoming Academy Awards.

AL: You postponed your initial trip to Cambodia in November in order to make Wall Street 2. At what stage is that project now?

OS: It’s actually called Wall Street. [Wall Street 2] is a bit of a misnomer by the LA Times. It’s called Wall Street: Where Money Never Sleeps, because it’s 22 years later and so it doesn’t have any value as a sequel, except for those who remember it. For the younger generation it’s fresh. I just finished shooting a month ago, in early December. We’re editing as quickly as we can and I would like to release it in the Easter area.

AL: You’re not a man to shy away from politics, and we understand that you’ve met with Prime Minister Hun Sen while here. What was your message to the Prime Minister?

OS: I had no message to him. In Asia I think you don’t give messages to political people. It’s more like meeting a monarch, it’s a formal ceremony. But [Hun Sen] told us some interesting stories about Cambodia, and he was very open and supportive of the work of the International Peace Foundation [which organises the Bridges lecture series.] Hun Sen is no longer the young fiery leader I remember from 20 years ago, but he’s survived and he’s certainly a strong man in this amazing environment.

AL: Did you meet with him 20 years ago too?

OS: No, I never met him 20 years ago. But I remember him. I was here in ’65 originally, as a student. I came back around ’91-’92, which were quite interesting times because it was just when the UN was trying to do a lot here, and then I came back several times during the protests.

AL: What changes have you seen during this visit?

OS: I haven’t studied the area, but it seems to have solidified. It seems richer, certainly going a bit more along the Chinese capitalist model. It’s obviously a controlled environment, and it’s not a huge country, but it’s moving along and getting richer I suppose. Though who is getting richer is the question. The city needs some work. It needs investment, and it needs to be built up a bit. But life is slow out here. Cambodia has always moved at a certain pace – an elephant’s.

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

Check out our photographers shots from his visit here