Presenting his latest work, "The Putin Interviews,” at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Monday, Oliver Stone took aim at the U.S. mainstream media for its inability or refusal to look beyond the established image of Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
The festival honored Stone on Sunday with its Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award for his "exceptional contribution to film art.” As part of the tribute, the fest is screening four of Stone’s films, including "Snowden,” "Natural Born Killers,” and "Platoon.”
At a Q&A session during and after an entire four-hour screening of "The Putin Interviews,” Stone also touched on the powerlessness of Donald Trump in setting U.S policy, claiming the unwavering course of the country was set by the deep state, regardless of the White House occupant, but nevertheless warned of the U.S. president’s recent threats of military action in Asia and South America.
"Trump — he can’t do anything about where we’re going,” he said. "Right now he’s beating the war drum because that’s more popular, and unfortunately it’s dangerous, not only for Venezuela and North Korea, but also for the world because one thing leads to the other. It could be a disaster.”
Stone spoke at length about what he said was a blatantly biased view of Russia and its leader in the U.S. media.
The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, which set the agenda for U.S. television news, are all conservative and have become "extremist in their anti-Russian fervor,” the filmmaker said.
"What I’m seeing today — and I’ve read these papers for years — is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Stone said. "When the Ukrainian situation happened, I didn’t see any reports from the other side of the war. Within hours the United States recognized the coup d’état. And the reporting from the beginning was very anti-Russian.”
Pointing to the $600 million cloud computing contract that the CIA awarded Amazon in 2013 and the fact that the tech giant’s owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post, Stone opined that "it may well be an agenda. We all know the CIA, New York Times, and Washington Post have been close for years. They’re linked to the CIA … CIA interests are not America’s interests, they never have been. The CIA has been morally corrupt since the beginning.”
Answering a question about the possible price of receiving access to Putin, Stone took issue with American and British journalistic practices, saying, "Anglo mentality is to be tough, ask tough questions, and challenge everything he says. I don’t think that’s my style. Firstly I’m a filmmaker, I’m not a reporter. I’ve seen the results of Mike Wallace and, what’s her name, Megyn Kelly,” he said. "I’ve seen what happens when you treat foreign leaders as if you have the right to interrogate them in an American Guantanamo — it doesn’t work.”
On Putin’s view of Trump, Stone said the Russian leader was realistic and well aware that "the policy of the United States is not set by the president. He knows there are limitations. He knows that he’s dealing with a man that is very irrational.” For his part, Putin says in the interview that Trump "ran a good campaign, but he sometimes went too far.”
Both Stone and audience members commented on Putin’s apparent depth of historical knowledge, keen observations, and political savvy.
"He’s very much of a realist, pragmatic — in the mode of Bismarck or Metternich,” Stone said, referring to the revered 19th-century German statesmen.
One audience member stressed that the film offered a stunning contrast in the level of sophistication and acumen between Trump and Putin, whose sharp intellect is evident in passing conversation, whether in reciting mythological tales of Odysseus’ journey through the Black Sea or his expressed admiration for Arizona Senator John McCain — a vociferous critic of Moscow — who he compared to Cato the Elder, the conservative Roman senator who had similar reservations about another world power and liked to end his speeches by reminding his peers that "Carthage must be destroyed.”
Explaining his own personal reasons for seeking to profile Putin, Stone said: "As to my own ethic, it’s in my genes, in my DNA, I’ve always — in baseball, in football — I’ve alway rooted for the underdog,” he added. "In my country, Russia has never gotten a good break.”
Despite warmer relations with the Soviet Union during World War II, Stone said the U.S. began viewing Russia as the enemy with the start of the Cold War.
"Russia never, ever was regarded as anything less than a villain after that. And it continued through my whole youth. … Interestingly enough, Franklin Roosevelt was the only American president next to Kennedy who really recognized the Russian contribution to World War II,” he said. "Roosevelt’s idea, if he had lived, was to make a grand alliance between the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, and China.”