As president of the jury for the Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia, Oliver Stone takes his role seriously. He sees the festival as an opportunity to explore the cinema made in a region of the world that he believes is not understood: “It’s an opportunity to really dive into the very fascinating Asian and African cinema. There are a lot of big changes. You know, there’s a whole new world and they’re learning how to use film to tell their stories.”
Stone hinted at these changes in his words at the opening ceremony: “You see the changes coming here, the reforms. I think people who judge too harshly should come visit this place and see for themselves.”
It was a comment that was bound to cause controversy among critics of the kingdom’s human rights record. But Stone has no regrets. “I meant what I said,” clarified the director of “The Department” and “JFK”. “Human rights, Jesus Messiah! […] America needs to look at itself with Julian Assange before they start criticizing other people. Because that’s the worst case I’ve ever heard. […] America certainly has a long list of crimes. I don’t think they should be pointing fingers at anybody.” Stone cites the Iraq war as a particularly humiliating example of heavy-handed American intervention.
He continues: “Now they’re arguing about women in Iran? What about here? They’re doing huge reforms for women. They can’t mention that? You know, all they mention is a murder a few years ago. There’s a lot of murder going on in their country. What What they’re doing to Assange is, in some ways, worse than cutting somebody. It’s killing them slowly. Right. OK. Enough said.”
“The assassination several years ago” is a reference to the killing by Saudi government agents of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi-American dissident, in 2018.
Returning to film, Stone talks about how he finds the new cinema inspiring. “Definitely, it gives me a reason to say I miss my career. I have to go back and do 10 more movies. I feel terrible. I want to make some of these different stories, but I might have one movie left. You know, I’m 76 now, right? So yes. The new movies have gotten in many ways so much more sophisticated, better filmed. These young kids, the young ones, have the benefit of seeing everything we’ve done. So naturally, there are improvements and changes. The question is: What’s changing around? Is there a change In terms of content? And is the younger generation more cynical? You know, these are valid questions. So yes, it certainly renews the wellspring of passion. But you can’t make movies like this any easier. The movie business is pretty terrible, isn’t it? It’s never been worse.”
Could “JFK” be done today? Stone insists: “Not even close. You had to have some guts. I mean, a lot of filmmakers will tell you that but it’s true. You had to have a lot of guts to do it and Warner Bros. did take a lot of flak for it. We got a lot of criticism from the establishment. But Terry Smel and Bob Daly, they stuck with it. They said it was a good movie. What the hell?”
Stone says he has a neat feature but prefers not to talk about it. “Maybe I won’t be able to pull it off. In the last few years. I’ve had failures. I managed to make two documentaries. Very complicated. This last one was about nuclear energy. Did you see it?”
“Nuclear” claims massive promotion of nuclear energy as a solution to stop global warming. It’s a subject that Evan feels passionate about. He is also working on the second volume of his memoir Chasing the Light. One of the strengths of this unusual first volume is Stone’s willingness to admit when he has been wrong in the past, rather than expounding only on his successes. “That was the point. Even failure was a learning process. A tremendous amount of failure. And in the movie business, it’s the same for me. People hear about the successes but don’t hear about the failures.”