Oliver Stone spoke out forcefully against President Donald Trump and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East on his first visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran this week, where he was the guest of the 36th Fajr International Film Festival.
Having once compared former President George W. Bush to John Wayne, the filmmaker told a local journalist that he would have to liken Trump to "Beelzebub," a name sometimes given to the devil.
Demonstrating a solid knowledge of regional politics as well as Persian history at a press conference Wednesday in Tehran, Stone drew parallels to his films like Alexander and W and lambasted the recent meeting of Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, in which they called for a revision of the Iran nuclear deal. He called Macron a “young man without much sense of history or memory of the great traditions of France” who sought a return to colonialism and imperialism, and compared him to former French President Jacques Chirac, “who stood up to Bush” on the invasion of Iraq.
“National security trumps artistic freedom in every country, the U.S. as well as in the Middle East,” Stone said. “You can’t make a film critical of U.S. foreign policy. W was very difficult to finance. There was no interest in making Snowden, which was turned down by all the studios. I couldn’t get a dime from them.” The director felt the latter film was ill-promoted and when it was finally released in the U.S., it came out too late.
Time and again Stone referred to W as his dramatization of the role of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, along with their goals of attaining oil, money and resources at any cost. “I love the movie, it’s a satire,” he said. The filmmaker referred to the war in Iraq as a proxy war and to U.S. foreign policy since 2001 as aimed at regime change, “no matter how disastrous the invasion of Iraq was.”
“We made a mess out of Iraq, Syria, Libya, but it doesn’t matter to the American public. It’s okay to wreck the Middle East,” said Stone, criticizing the neo-conservative policy of "creative destruction." He added, “It doesn’t matter who is president — Bush, Obama or Trump — the U.S. will break any treaty” in its interests.
Answering a question from an Al Jazeera reporter, Stone named Saudi Arabia as a major destabilizer in the Middle East, and ironically commented on how “creatively destructive” they were.
Carefully treading around the subject of Iranian cinema, Stone affirmed his support for filmmaker Jafar Panahi, currently under a travel ban that may not permit him to attend the Cannes Film Festival, even with a film in competition: “As a filmmaker, I would let him go to Cannes, but I’m for artistic freedom. The biggest victory is to make movies in the first place.”
Asked whether he would consider making a film about ISIS, Stone said: “It’s a very good idea, but the world is very political and there are many blocking forces and controversies, for example in the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. It would be hard to make it honestly.”
Stone acknowledged he had come under heavy fire from the conservative, hard-line Israeli press for his trip to Iran. He also debunked as totally false a “ridiculous story” that he had planned to make a film in 2007 about then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, only to be rebuffed. Curiously, one of the most popular titles in this year’s Iranian Film Market has been Sly, Kamal Tabrizi’s searing spoof on the rise and fall of a populist politico who is obviously based on Ahmadinejad. Stone was scheduled to screen it at the festival.
Stone's trip included a visit to the old Persian capital of Isfahan with his wife, Sun-jung Jung, and a workshop with Iranian film students in Tehran. (In 2012, Stone’s son Sean Stone visited Iran and converted to Shiite Islam.)
Festival venues announced the director's arrival with flashes of scenes from Platoon, Wall Street, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, U Turn, The Doors, Nixon and Scarface, as well as his Fidel Castro interview Comandante, though none were screened. Nixon is the only Stone film to have been theatrically released in Iran.
The Fajr Festival, which is unfolding side by side with the Iranian Film Market, which began last Thursday and runs through Friday, is the longest-running film event in the Middle East. More than 100 films from around the world are screening. Other fest guests include actors Franco Nero and Jean-Pierre Leaud and Italian composer Nicola Piovani.