x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Coming soon: Ahmadinejad through Oliver Stone's lens?

The filmmaker's son, Sean Stone, is in Tehran, possibly plotting a film on Iran.

Sean Stone, son of Oliver, pictured this week posing on the top of Milad Tower overviewing the Iranian Tehran. He is in Iran to make arrangements for a documentary, Iranian news agencies reported yesterday. MEHDI HASANI / AFP PHOTO
Sean Stone, son of Oliver, pictured this week posing on the top of Milad Tower overviewing the Iranian Tehran. He is in Iran to make arrangements for a documentary, Iranian news agencies reported yesterday. MEHDI HASANI / AFP PHOTO

Speculation is rife among Iranian movie enthusiasts. Is Oliver Stone finally set to fulfil his long-term ambition of making a blockbuster movie about Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

The controversial, triple Oscar-winning US director is due in Tehran this month and his son, Sean, was already in the Islamic republic scouting locations for a documentary, Iranian news outlets reported yesterday.

Sean Stone, 26, has been listed on the IMDB website as a documentary filmmaker and actor, having small roles in some of his father's movies.

Iranian media conceded there was no word on what the film would be about.

But clearly flattered Iranian media pointed out that the director has on several occasions shown interest in making a biopic of their flamboyantly anti-western president.

Sean Stone was to address the Iranian press yesterday at a Tehran hotel, Iranian media said, but by last night that had failed to materialise. So the project remains a mystery.

The Iranian authorities do not quite know what to make of Oliver Stone.

They are deeply mistrustful of Hollywood, which they often claim is controlled by Zionist interests, which they insist has deliberately maligned and misrepresented their country.

Iran's official media were infuriated three years ago by The Wrestler, a film starring Mickey Rourke that included a wrestler called "The Ayatollah".

In 2007, Mr Ahmadinejad's government accused Hollywood of "psychological warfare" over the portrayal of Persians in '300', a Warner Brothers box-office hit about the historically momentous battle between Greeks and Persians at Thermopylae in 480BC.

Oliver Stone's 2004 film, Alexander, was lambasted by Tehran for its sympathetic portrayal of Alexander the Great, a figure despised by many Iranians for sacking Persepolis, Persia's ancient seat of imperial power.

Oliver Stone was also one of several Hollywood luminaries that included Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee, who in 2010 called for the release of Jafar Panahi, a renowned Iranian filmmaker jailed for alleged anti-regime activities.

Even so, some in the Iranian government admire Oliver Stone, not least for his 2009 documentary of leftist politicians in Latin America, such as the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, a valued Iranian ally.

In 2007, the camera-loving Iranian president said he had no objection in principle to Stone putting him on the silver screen. Mr Ahmadinejad, however, wanted assurances on the project's aims and script approval.

Iranian officials at the time accepted that Oliver Stone was "part of the opposition in the US", but scotched the movie plans by declaring that even the opposition was part of the "Great Satan" America.

Oliver Stone shrugged off the 2007 rebuff with a witty statement, taking a swipe at both Mr Ahmadinejad and his then US counterpart, George W Bush.

"I have been called a lot of things, but never a great satan," Oliver Stone said. "I wish the Iranian people well, and only hope their experience with an inept, rigid ideologue president goes better than ours."

In 2009, Oliver Stone was again in touch with Iranian officials about making a documentary on Mr Ahmadinejad. This time the project was reportedly scuttled by "scheduling" constraints.

The Tehran Times said yesterday that Oliver Stone and his son had been invited to Iran by a "number of Iranians film investors".

Iran's flourishing film industry, while afflicted by official censorship, has bagged several prestigious awards at international film festivals.

Several leading Hollywood luminaries who visited Iran in March 2009 were dismayed by the negative local media coverage of their attempt to build cultural bridges. Mr Ahmadinejad's arts adviser, Javad Shamghadari, demanded the group apologised to Iranians for Hollywood's "30 years of insults and slanders" if they wanted to meet leading figures in Iran's celebrated film industry.

Many ordinary Iranians, however, avidly watch Hollywood movies on pirated DVDs and on illegal satellite channels.

American movies are also shown on state television, but are censored for content considered offensive to Islam.