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Jakarta Post

Oliver Stone in the struggle for truth

  • Inforial

    The Jakarta Post

-   /   Tue, February 23, 2021   /   06:24 pm
Oliver Stone in the struggle for truth . (Courtesy of Mola TV/.)

A talk with the controversial and outspoken Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Oliver Stone has revealed how historical truth should be constantly sought after despite many challenges ahead.

Although JFK, an epic American political thriller that Stone directed, was released around 30 years ago, Stone has recently made a documentary about John F. Kennedy, former US President, following the discovery of new evidence in a book written by James Garrison, the district attorney of Orleans parish, Louisiana. 

“I got involved in the book and talked to him [Garrison]. I did enormous research with my team, and we had a lot of witnesses,” said 74-year-old Stone, referring to the making of the documentary about JFK, in a talk on the Mola TV Living program on Feb. 20.

He went on to say, “When you go through all these facts and bring them to the movie, you will find another side. So we are always fighting to find the truth. It is a struggle,” said Stone.

Stone looked deep in thought when discussing JFK, which came out in 1991.

Stone’s documentary about President John F. Kennedy will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival for international audiences in July. “It will have no censorship or blockage,” he said.

The talk was led by Dino Patti Djalal, former Indonesian Ambassador to the United States, and Nadine Alexandra, former Putri Indonesia beauty pageant winner and an actress and environmental activist.

Stone also shared his tough experiences in his filmmaking journey and his insights into filmmaking, his creative process, foreign affairs and the environment.

Discussing his earlier career in filmmaking, Stone showed a book titled Chasing the Light, a memoir about Stone’s complicated New York childhood, volunteering for combat and his struggles and triumphs making such films as Platoon, Midnight Express and Scarface.

 “It took me eight years to have a success, from 1971 to 1979. I wrote about 12 screenplays but all were rejected. I gradually learned from the errors and experiences,” he said.

“I learned about directing by watching myself, reading and watching my personal journey. It was out of the box. There is no formula,” he said.

Asked where his best ideas came from, he said that they came out of research, caring, a lot of subjects and talking to people. “When you research in the field, you talk to people, you learn from people. It is a wonderful experience. It is interesting to hear contradictory testimonies,” said the inspiring filmmaker.

Many people have attributed the success of Vietnam War-based films, such as Platoon, to Stone’s view that American people were convinced that the Vietnam War was impossible and unwinnable. “This was probably the reason why it was successful. But in fact, it was low budget. It was shot in the Philippines. Nobody knows that,” he said.

According to Stone, big Hollywood movies are not realistic. “They were made in the way that the filmmakers wanted to tell, not at the ground level and with no dissent. In Platoon, there was a lot of dissent. And that’s one thing you have to realize in the Vietnam War,” he said.

It was important, he said, to personalize what happens and connect with it emotionally. “You have a feeling about it because something is at stake. That makes it a better film in my opinion.” he said, recalling his short film, Last Year in Vietnam.

Critical view

.. (Courtesy of Mola TV/.)

Stone’s critical view of American politicians and the US administration was revealed when he was asked about his recent interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Stone, Vladimir Putin is a calm man and does not get very emotional, which is very important for world leaders. “Sometimes politicians in America do theatrical things for voters. Frankly speaking, they are very volatile toward them [Russians],” he said. “Russia tries to maintain a balance, looking for a peaceful relationship with the United States.”

Many Americans think that Russians are communists, he said, but they are actually not. “It is a capitalist economy. There is no reason, as I said, for China, Russia and the United States not to be united in the world’s efforts to fight climate change and deal with nuclear weapons. To me, division in the world is unnecessary,” he said.

According to stone, capitalism does not necessarily allow one to be greedy. “Capitalism should be based on honesty and integrity. The important thing is not to think only of short-term profit,” he said.

A case in point is General Motors, one of the greatest companies in the United States, he said. “Recently they announced they were going to get emission-free cars by 2035. That thinking ahead, thinking about America and improving the company. That’s the kind of thinking we need. We have to think of the future of clean energy needs,” he said.

Asked if filmmakers have a duty to have good morals, Stone said, “I don’t believe that. I don’t feel any obligation at all. In fact, sometimes I feel rebellious against that because what is the morality of the time? Who decides it?”

“I hope members of the audience think for themselves, not to react to the mass conformity. Move away from a consensus but think for yourself,” said Stone, who loves Indonesian shadow puppetry.

Stone said making short films at a film school would be a good start. “But you don’t have to go there. Now it is much easier to make a film. You can use videos. I myself shot my film Savages in video. I enjoy it, as I change with the times,” he said.

“However, if you want to make a movie, you should study drama, any kind of comedy, watch and read scripts a lot,” he advised. “There is no one way to have an education in film. Everybody stumbles in their own way.”

Using pen and paper helps stone express his ideas, part of his creative process. “I used them in the first draft. I save time when I have a process where I need to move several drafts or materials. But generally speaking, I use a yellow pad,” he said, holding up his yellow pad.

Apart from preparing to show his documentary on JFK, Stone has been working on a nuclear energy documentary. “It is at our fingertips: clean, expensive but durable and scalable. And I think the world is heading toward a place where the demand for electricity will be six times more by 2050,” he said.

Mola TV Living Live with Oliver Stone is worth watching for the precious lessons that Stone shares from his long and arduous filmmaking journey before he made his name in the international movie world.  Stone is, indeed, an inspiring man of principle in his own style, who serves as a role model for young people.

Every prominent figure in the world has his or her own unique style, and you can watch how they share their life experiences and lessons, which are in some ways personal but universal at the same time, on the Mola TV Living Live program.

Other prominent figures who have shared their life story on the program include Robert De Niro, one of the most influential people in cinematic history; American actor and singer John Travolta;  American film director, producer and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola; American film directors Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky; actress Sharon stone, French film director Luc Besson and American boxer Mike Tyson. Curious? Please visit Mola TV.

You can watch the entire program by buying any Mola TV subscription package, which starts from Rp 12,500 (89 US cents) per month. You can access Mola TV either via its application (available on both the Appstore and Playstore) or at mola.tv.