Director Oliver Stone rips US as ‘outlaws’ while visiting Iran

Tehran—Award winning American director, Oliver Stone has said the United States is a global “outlaw” that has made a mess of the Middle East.

In a wide-ranging press conference held during his first visit to Iran, Oliver Stone expressed appreciation for Iran’s extensive history and recent cinematic accomplishments, criticized American policy toward the Middle East, and voiced his wish that acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi would be allowed to attend the Cannes Film Festival to witness the premiere of his latest film.

Spending a week in Iran as a guest of the Fajr International Film Festival, Stone answered questions from journalists in the Charsou complex in Tehran. He started out by saying that the early part of his visit took him to other Iranian cities, including Isfahan and he was impressed at the hospitality he had been shown and the “warmth” he felt from people of all walks of life.

He said he had long been interested in Iran and its 2500-year history and was fortunate that the invitation from Fajr came when his schedule would allow his visit.

The press conference was his third public appearance since arriving in Tehran on Monday, when he participated in a master class at Tehran University. On Tuesday, he was interviewed for live on Iranian TV, during which he ignored a request to avoid the subject of politics and criticized the Trump administration for including John Bolton, an anti-Iran hawk, on its national security team.

He also denounced what he called the “lies…of the Israeli right-wing press” including reports that he had requested an interview with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2006.

His comments on Panahi’s situation were not his first encounter with the Iranian filmmaker’s difficulties.

In 2010, Stone joined other prominent American filmmakers in signing a petition to protest the Iranian government’s arrest of the director of “The Circle” and “Offside,” which resulted from Panahi’s political activism following the controversial election of 2009. He has since been released but a court has barred him from traveling abroad. His latest film, “Three Faces,” is scheduled to debut in Cannes’ Official Competition in May.

Stone has been criticized in the conservative Iranian press for directing “Alexander,” which concerns the ancient Greek king who conquered Persian empire. Answering a reporter’s question about whether the film is “anti-Iranian,” he first said that he thinks the film has been judged on its original theatrical release version but that his vision is much better represented by the longer director’s cut released in 2014, which he said has sold millions of copies. He added that Alexander of Macedon did not set out to “rape” Persia but had an idea of an ecumenical worldwide empire that the filmmaker compared to the United Nations.

The director of “JFK” and “Platoon”  said he’s well aware of the Iranian cinema’s many recent accomplishments and is watching new Iranian films at Fajr with great interest. 

Stone, director of politically charged factual movies such as Nixon, Looking for Fidel and Snowden, as well as classics such as Midnight Express and Platoon, went on to blame the US for much of the violence and trauma that has rocked parts of the region in recent years: “America, combined with ISIS, and Israel aims to destroy the Middle East and make it a parking lot for America; to make it over and I think it is a very destructive plan and it is a tragedy,” he said.

Stone added that he didn’t expect the current troubles in the region to benefit either his own country, or those in the Middle East, any time soon: “Americans have always been involved in war in different countries but have never got any lesson from the disastrous results and still plan to start other wars,” he said.

The award-winning director has made movies about political figures including Richard Nixon, George Bush, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Eva Peron and Edward Snowden, but he insisted that the names at the top of the page make little difference: “I think it makes no difference who the president of the US is,” he asserted.

“When Obama came [to power], we were hopeful that the situation would get better but nothing changed and now Mr Trump is here and the same stories are going on again. This octopus will continue its path again and again. Iran is the main target for the US, so it will not leave Syria until it gets access to Iran which is a rich country geopolitically.”

Regarding American policy in the Middle East, Stone said that he made much of his viewpoint known in his film “W.,” which concerns the administration of George W. Bush and its decision to invade Iraq in 2003. 

He went on to say that “national security has trumped artistic freedom,” claiming “you cannot make a film critical of the United States’ foreign policy.”

“We made a mess out of Iraq, Syria, Libya, but it doesn’t matter to the American public. It’s OK to wreck the Middle East,” Stone said. “It doesn’t matter who is president — Bush, Obama or Trump, the U.S. will break any treaty.”

He told a journalist that, having compared former President George W. Bush to John Wayne, he would have to compare Trump with “Beelzebub,” a name sometimes used for the devil.

Stone also criticized French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Trump this week in the administration’s first state visit and on Wednesday addressed a joint session of Congress. 

The filmmaker called Macron a “young man without much sense of history or memory of the great traditions of France,” referring to French colonialism and imperialism. 

Stone has criticized Trump in the past, calling him a “disaster” last year. 

“This is a little too early to tell if Trump lasts, but it seems he’s not to be the kind of president who plans, who deliberates,” Stone said.

Stone insisted his appearance at the festival was entirely non-political. The director told Iranian journalist Nader Talebzadeh at the end of his appearance: “I came to Iran to watch films.”

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