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SHANGHAI – Director Oliver Stone brought thunderous applause to a crowd of more than 500 festivalgoers at the 16th Shanghai International Film Festival in China on Monday when he praised whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “hero.”
In response to a passionately worded indictment from an audience member accusing the U.S. National Security Agency of “eavesdropping on the world,” the celebrated — and provocative — director said, simply: “Snowden is a hero,” before launching into a brief discussion of the revelations about the U.S. spy programs and their aftermath.
Snowden has taken refuge in Hong Kong, which has a strong political asylum policy and a judiciary that remains autonomous from mainland China. Stone went on to praise the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and whistleblower Bradley Manning. He condemned President Barack Obama‘s administration for prosecuting six whistleblower cases despite campaign promises of a more progressive administration.
Stone joined prolific Hong Kong director Johnnie To in a master class entitled “How Does Film Have Its Influence on Real Life?” held at the newly opened Shanghai Film Museum with moderator and state-owned newspaper China Daily film critic Raymond Zhou.
“Mr. Stone, you sound like one of China’s angry young men,” chided Zhou.
Despite repeated attempts from the moderator to redirect the discussion and Zhou’s requests not to discuss poltical matters, Stone castigated the Bush adminstration, the Iraq war, the Kuwait Invasion and American imperialism.
Stone defended movies that criticize authority, from war movies to crime movies. But he did caution that violence must be used responsibly. He also pointed to the media’s influence on the culture of violence, from Newtown and Columbine to the Bush-era wars.
“Movies that glorify war give permission to the leaders to make war,” said Stone. “We create the myth and then we eventually believe it.”
Unraveling the myths of the United States history was one motivation for his documentary project The Untold History of the United States, which Stone proclaimed as the toughest project he has undertaken.
“In 2013, we simply cannot allow war to exist” said an impassioned Stone. “No war on drugs, on terrorism, poverty, or immigration. It does not work”
Johnnie To has produced numerous films containing a liberal dose of violence. He downplayed the role of movie violence and its effects on society. He said he provided an unreal sort of violence, which he related more to a dance, saying his overall look portrays a certain romance.
“Movies are not textbooks or teaching tools,” said To. “We each have our own opinions and ending movie violence will not remove violence in the real world.”
Stone contradicted this, pointing out that for an entire young generation raised in the language of free markets, the immoral mogul Gordon Gekko in his film Wall Street, has become the hero of the film and his values have become the norm.
To’s Drug War will be screened at the festival while Stone’s Ultimate Cut of Alexander, an episode of The Untold History of the United States and Savages, as well as a selection of Stone’s earlier works, will form a Tribute to the Masters section of the festival screening. Stone will be honored with an Outstanding Artistic Achievement award.
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