Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace

V: Film-Making and Peace-Building

Internationally famed film director Oliver Stone delivered the fifth keynote speech at the University of Cambodia on January 27, 2010, as part of the ongoing six month program of the current Bridges Dialogues. He was conferred an honorary doctorate in Arts and Humanities by H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn (President of UC and Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) in recognition of his contribution to cinematography.

Directing his attention to the students in the audience, Mr. Stone’s motivational speech focused on history and people’s perception of it, as well as the connection to peace and education. In his opening, he revealed a strong connection to Southeast Asia and referenced his earlier years of teaching in South Vietnam and serving in the Vietnam War, experiences which changed his life as he described, “[It]. . .gave me a sense not only of a huge amount of destruction and darkness, but at the same time a tremendous sense of regeneration and fertility.”

Mr. Stone admitted that, after the wars and devastation, he never expected Vietnam and Cambodia to rebuild as well as the two countries have, and expressed optimism that Southeast Asian people can learn from and move forward after these events, citing the abundance of universities and young people who desire to learn in Cambodia as one example
of progress.

History has not only influenced much of his work, as Mr. Stone noted, but also has important learning lessons for people and

“It is an amazing thing, the power of the people.”
oliver stone,
famed film director

countries today. He compared current world leaders and their nations with historical leaders and empires that rose to power and eventually fell, critiquing the United States as a country that grew “in the name of freedom and democracy” to become a country that has begun to “oppress those who were seeking the same things in their own countries.” As sheer economic or physical force cannot sustain dominance, Mr. Stone points to the American Establishment’s arrogance as the cause for countries around the world uniting against the United States, a situation that may have been avoided by studying lessons from history.

“Read history to know humanity and to, above all, remember the past,” he encouraged the audience.

Acknowledging that achieving peace is not easy or cheap, Mr. Stone turned his attention to his next major point and stated, “Peace is truly the result of struggle, and war is the result of the failure of a struggling peace. Most importantly, it is a struggle inside yourself that will make for you your own peace.” His words resonated with audience members. Even decades after that struggle for peace, Cambodians--young and old--continue to experience its harsh consequences but, as Mr. Stone pointed out earlier, are resolute in moving forward.

Mr. Stone continued with a beautiful message advocating for everyone to take personal responsibility for promoting peace:

I believe the wars of the world are. . .[always]. . . going to be there, but I believe the peace we have in our home is perhaps the most important thing we can achieve if we cannot change the world. We can start with our families, we can start with our children, we can start with our parents. And we know every time we get to our edge and we scream or we yell or we get angry, this is the beginning of a war. It is very important for us to realize we are all part of this planet and this madness and this hostility.
We have to put a stop to it.He views civilization as the critical link between humankind, a way for people to respect the rights of others and seek peace and justice.
Mr. Stone’s final message centered around the importance of pursuing an education and cultivating the mind, a topic dear to faculty members at UC and pertinent to its students.
He believes that getting an education is perhaps one of the most important things a person can do to improve his or her life because “[the]. . .mind is the most important tool [a person has],” and went as far as comparing the mind to a weapon, saying, “It’s your weapon, your rifle.” Moreover, the arts and sciences serve to shape the mind and teach people how to think, allowing people to “see the world in a richer way.” He challenged audience members to use the knowledge they gain through education to overcome adversity and any setbacks they may face in life.

In addition to encouraging students to explore the world, learn as much as they can, and be happy with their efforts, Mr. Stone reiterated in his closing remarks the importance of cultivating knowledge through education and creating a culture of peace, even in the face of terrorism, discrimination, and poverty. His other powerful message was one that UC students often hear from faculty members: “You can give back; you can contribute as you grow older.” At the end of his presentation, when asked about factors that caused U.S. public opinion to turn against the Vietnam War, Mr. Stone credited students and protesters as being incredibly influential in ending the war, a scene he depicted in his 1995 film Nixon.

“It is an amazing thing, the power of the people,” he declared. He went on to say that news in the U.S. has become biased because television has been, to use his word, “prostituted,” so the media focuses on making money instead of being objective. As an example, He cited the lack of attention the U.S. media paid to global
resentment of the Iraq invasion.

Interestingly, Mr. Stone also spoke about the tradeoffs of being an activist and making films, specifically about how being an activist can hurt his power and ability to affect people as a film director.

Mr. Oliver Stone is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer whose work has earned him international recognition and numerous accolades. He won three Academy Awards (Oscars) for his movies Midnight Express (1978), Platoon (1986), and Born on the Fourth of July (1989); the last two were about the Vietnam War. His other movies, which were also successful, earned him several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and wins. Mr. Stone continues to work on future film projects.