[Marxism] Oliver Stone film on Fidel only for Canadian

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Wed Mar 24 15:43:49 MST 2004

Censorship takes a new turn: Oliver Stone film on Fidel only for Canadian

Unbelievable. One year after it was scheduled to air on HBO, Oliver Stone's
documentary on Fidel Castro ("Comandante") filmed in early 2002 remains
"banned in the USA." However, those of you with Canadian friends or contacts
may wish to request that they videotape the film when it is shown on CBC
throughout Canada, on CBC Newsworld's The Passionate Eye at 10 p.m. on
Sunday, March 28 and repeats on Friday, April 2 at 10 p.m. (EST, or Toronto
times). Then maybe they can send us deprived masses in the USA, copies of
the the tapes so we can finally get to see it. Ironically, HBO insisted that
Stone go back and supplement the film with focus on treatment of Cuban
dissidents, etc., since he was reputed to be insufficiently tough on Castro
the first time. Once that balance was achieved, HBO thought we might be able
to see what Stone originally thought was appropriate. But, not to be, except
in Canada. HBO on April 14, repeated,
will broadcast ONLY the supplement or response, and is still completely
censoring the original! Canadians fortunately will be able to see both, and
evaluate these issus for themselves.

All this was prominently featured on page one of the Weekend Review section
of Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, on Sat. March 20. Below
is the link, followed by several other links, and the full text of this
rather good (& embarrassing if you are from the US) article.
The links include a contact email for HBO, in case you wish to vent your
frustration as to how they treat us like children when it comes to a subject
as controversial as Fidel Castro and Cuba. [Note, some of Commadante was
filmed during Castro's extended presentation on the history of social work
in Cuba, to the US/Cuba Sister City delegations in early 2002, at the School
of Social work outside of Havana.]

 Wed 4/14 08:00 PM   HBO - EAST
 Wed 4/14 11:00 PM   HBO - WEST
 Thu 4/15 09:45 PM   HBO2 - EAST
 Fri 4/16 12:45 AM   HBO2 - WEST
 Sun 4/18 12:30 PM   HBO - EAST
 Sun 4/18 03:30 PM   HBO - WEST
 Tue 4/20 06:15 AM   HBO - EAST
 Tue 4/20 09:15 AM   HBO - WEST
 Tue 4/20 04:30 PM   HBO - EAST
 Tue 4/20 07:30 PM   HBO - WEST
 Sat 4/24 03:30 PM   HBO - EAST
 Sat 4/24 06:30 PM   HBO - WEST
 Sun 4/25 06:20 AM   HBO - WEST
 Mon 4/26 04:30 PM   HBO2 - EAST
 Mon 4/26 07:30 PM   HBO2 - WEST
 Thu 4/29 08:00 AM   HBO - EAST
 Thu 4/29 11:00 AM   HBO - WEST
 Thu 4/29 06:30 PM   HBO - EAST
 Thu 4/29 09:30 PM   HBO - WEST
 Fri 4/30 12:00 PM   HBO2 - EAST
 Fri 4/30 03:00 PM   HBO2 - WEST

>From the CBC website, here are the showing times as well as an article about
the film "Comandante":

(Toronto) Globe and Mail, Sat., March 20, 2004, top story, weekend review


Oliver Stone spent three days in Cuba with Castro talking about youth,
power, everything from Fidel's failings as a father to drinking nights with
Krushchev. The result is a film HBO won't show, perhaps because it puts a
human face on the U.S.'s eternal enemy. But the CBC isn't afraid to air it

UPDATED AT 5:19 PM EST  Saturday, Mar. 20, 2004

NEW YORK -- The phone line to Los Angeles is weak and crackling, and Oliver
Stone asks me to call him back. "I thought maybe our phone was being tapped
by the Bush Administration," I say when I finally reach him. "Huh huh," he
chuckles without mirth. "Huh huh. Huh huh. I don't know if that's funny or

The joke apparently cut a little close to home. Stone isn't quite an enemy
of the state, but for a Hollywood director, he has the rare ability to bring
on aesthetic heartburn among political, business and academic leaders in
America. His latest film, Comandante, a documentary profile of Fidel Castro,
had the misfortune to be scheduled for broadcast in the U.S. only weeks
after the Cuban government cracked down on dissidents last spring and
ordered the execution of three men who had hijacked a ferry to escape the
island. Saying it needed more work in light of the turn of events, the
normally fearless American pay channel HBO temporarily shelved the program.
Eventually, the network quietly removed the film from its schedule.
Comandante will finally get its North American premiere one week from
tomorrow, playing on CBC Newsworld's The Passionate Eye Mar. 28 at 10 p.m.

The problem wasn't just one of timing. Castro rarely grants interviews, and
some were disappointed with the gentle nature of Stone's approach. He gave
Castro the right to pause the proceedings at any point if he objected to the
questions. But there was no need to exercise that right since Stone, who
appears on-screen in modest thrall to Castro, was going after a portrait of
a man rather than a world leader. There is little tough questioning about
the treatment of dissidents or other potentially hot topics. "It's one of
the few documents of Castro actually being in the conversational mode,"
boasts Stone, sitting down for a coffee in an L.A. restaurant.

"It's like My Dinner with Andre. It's My Dinner with Fidel."

Actually, many dinners. Castro and a mustachioed Stone break bread together
on-screen, travel the streets of Havana in the presidential Mercedes and
wade through admirers at surprise appearances throughout the city. Culled
from 30 hours of interviews that took place over three days in 2002, the
film shows the Cuban leader relaxed and reflective, and almost
simplistically playful.

"The Americans have a view of Castro that is unfortunately rigid," Stone
says, the restaurant clatter amplified by his phone. "He is a man who's seen
a lot. Let's give him his chance to speak. I think they're worried they
might like him."

Stone continues. "They don't like to listen. They don't want to give
Hussein, or anybody, more airtime. The Vietnamese were faceless -- you make
the enemy faceless, you can obviously get away with that for a long time."

Comandante puts a human face on America's eternal enemy. Castro demonstrates
his exercise regimen for Stone's cameras, pacing in a rectangular circuit
around his small office. He sits in a screening room, nostalgic ease
spreading across his 76-year-old face, as he dwells on his love of old movie
stars such as Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. He admits that he has
perhaps not been as good a father to his sons as he might have been. He
offers Stone, an old JFK assassination-conspiracy buff, his own thoughts on
the lone gunman theory. And he recalls some evenings of heavy drinking
through the decades with Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Yeltsin.

Somehow believing this sort of material might be greeted warmly back home,
Stone stepped on a land mine. To some Americans, particularly those within
the powerful Cuban exile community, which has the ability to move the vote
in the swing state of Florida and therefore can grab the attention of
federal politicians, the concept of a soft portrait of Castro is just short
of criminal. In the days after Comandante screened for the first time at the
2003 Sundance Film Festival, the local Cuban exile community began a fierce
campaign to have it suppressed.

"So many reporters in America killed the film without even seeing it," says
a disappointed Stone. "They were all saying the same thing: It's soft-ball
questions for old Castro. It was just so obvious that nobody had seen the
film. That's amazing to me, that that kind of closing down of the First
Amendment can happen so easily."

"I think I pushed Fidel. I wasn't trying to be Mike Wallace because I don't
think Mike Wallace would have gotten anything from him. He's used to those
people in his face, so I went about it as a filmmaker, not as a political

Stone habitually challenges authority, either by taking on official U.S.
history with the swirling paranoia of JFK or an all-out assault on the
corrupt media-saturated American culture in Natural Born Killers. He even
faced nasty opposition to his last studio picture, Any Given Sunday, a
critical look at professional football. "Oh, the NFL killed us, or tried to
kill us," he says. "It took its gloves off. There was a lot of dirty stuff.
If you take on the establishment here, it's not that easy. It's like Soviet
Russia, you know. It's not that easy to take on the big boys. There's a
climate of fear."

That's where HBO is supposed to come into the picture. The pay-TV network
portrays itself as being above the quotidian commercial pressures that crush
the creativity of the broadcast outlets. As a cable service, it can afford
to offend just about anyone it wishes, be it a core of Italian-Americans
with The Sopranos, the Catholic church with a documentary about sexual abuse
by priests, or anti-porn advocates with a program about Nevada's Bunny Ranch

But the network, owned by Time Warner, may have felt Castro's defence of
himself crossed a line. "What is a dictator? And is it bad to be a
dictator?" Castro asks rhetorically, to little apparent objection from
Stone. "Because I've seen the United States government being friendly with
the biggest dictators."

HBO said this week it did not cave to pressure from a powerful lobby group,
it merely took another look at Comandante when Castro's crackdown occurred
and determined the film wasn't balanced enough. Saying it was "still in the
works," the network asked Stone to return to Cuba for more material. He did
so, securing another three days with Castro in May, 2003. The encounter was
much testier, as Stone pushed him on his control of political opponents and
the execution of the hijackers. Stone also spoke with dissidents.

But rather than incorporate that material into Comandante, Stone produced an
entirely separate documentary entitled Looking for Fidel, which will be
shown on HBO next month. (CBC Newsworld is negotiating for the rights.) HBO
still has no intention of running Comandante, even as a companion piece to
Looking for Fidel. "We don't feel there is a need to air Comandante," said
Lana Iny, an HBO spokesperson.

CBC did not share HBO's concerns. "We've run portraits of Saddam Hussein, of
the Pope -- quite a broad range of documentaries," said Jerry McIntosh, the
director of documentaries for CBC News. "I think the fact that Castro is a
dictator is not a reason for us not to look at the guy's life and his point
of view."

Stone understands HBO's objections. but is disappointed that Americans won't
get a chance to see the film except at select film festivals.

"I saw what the people are like in Cuba. I'm not seeing a Stalinist regime,
North Korea, or Iraq. Let's not kid ourselves, millions of tourists go there
every year, Canadians included, they see with their own eyes. At what point
does it become ridiculous to put a hex on this island?"

He speaks from a wealth of experience. Stone is one of the best-travelled
commercial filmmakers, often going abroad to make movies such as Salvador,
Platoon, and his upcoming epic about Alexander the Great, Alexander, due out
in November. "I've been in a lot of these countries: Honduras, Guatemala,
Chile, Brazil, Argentina. I don't see where they're so free," he says with a
grim laugh. "I don't understand what the comparison is and why Cuba is the
bogeyman. I'd be a lot more scared to live in Guatemala, or frankly parts of
New York or L.A. or Washington, than I would in Havana. I think it's very
safe. There's very little crime."

So why does America hold a grudge against Cuba? "It's like Vietnam. It
represents something that beat us," he says, then reconsiders his words.
"Well, they wouldn't surrender. Castro outwitted us, stayed on, the
revolution lasted, he took over the land."

"Taking land is the greatest sin in America," he says. "Revolution is not
allowable -- although we had a revolution. We're still committed to
destroying the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918, and I think in a strange way
anything that exists outside our globalized financial structure is going to
be the enemy. And Cuba is right up there on that list, with North Korea,
Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, but they won't put them on. Won't put Saudi Arabia
on." He laughs.

This is as close as Stone will come to making specific comments about the
current state of politics in the U.S. Perhaps he's tired of being attacked
for his politics, but he leaves many questions alone, even seeming to
pretend at times that he didn't hear them. Still, he will take a slap or two
at the current American leadership, by way of pointing to the special place
Castro holds in the hearts of the Cuban people.

"Every street we walked down [with Castro], there was a furor, an
excitement, people rushing out to see him, lining up to see him, and I think
we could have gone to 20 streets and found that kind of reaction," he says.

"If you just look at the faces, you'll see it. I hope that comes through a
bit in the documentary. I'm sure there's some discontent that I'm not
showing in their faces, but you don't generally see that kind of enthusiasm
for a presidential candidate, unless he's John Kennedy or Bill Clinton. I
don't know that you'd see it spontaneously for George Bush. I don't think
George Bush would walk around any street in America. I think he'd be scared
to death with what he'd get."

Oliver Stone's documentary Comandante airs on CBC Newsworld's The Passionate
Eye at 10 p.m. on Sunday, March 28 and repeats on Friday, April 2 at 10 p.m.

C 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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