Oliver Stone’s clandestine meetings with Edward Snowden, NSA worries

Fears of interference by the National Security Agency led Oliver
Stone to shoot “Snowden,” his upcoming movie about
government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, outside the United
States.
“We moved to Germany, because we did not feel comfortable in
the U.S.,” Stone said on March 6, speaking before an audience at
the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho, in a Q&A moderated by The
Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway. “We felt like we were at
risk here. We didn’t know what the NSA might do, so we ended
up in Munich, which was a beautiful experience.”
Even there, problems arose with companies that had connections
to the U.S., he said: “The American subsidiary says, ‘You can’t get
involved with this; we don’t want our name on it.’ So BMW
couldn’t even help us in any way in Germany.”
While in Sun Valley, the three-time Oscar winner held a private
screening of “Snowden” for an invited audience of around two
dozen. Those who attended the screening, at the former home of
Ernest Hemingway, included actress Melissa Leo, who plays
documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras.
Guests were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, but that
did not prevent three of them from speaking to this reporter. All
praised the work in progress. “What he did that’s so brilliant is, he
gave this kid’s whole back story, so you really like him,” said one
audience member.
When Stone (whose films include “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth
of July” and “Wall Street”) was first approached to make the
movie, he hesitated. He had been working on another
controversial subject, about the last few years in the life of Martin
Luther King Jr., and did not immediately wish to tackle something
that incendiary again.
“Glenn Greenwald (the journalist who worked with Poitras to
break the Snowden story) asked me some advice, and I just
wanted to stay away from controversy,” he said. “I didn’t want
this. Be that as it may, a couple of months later, the Russian
lawyer for Snowden contacts me via my producer. The Russian
lawyer told me to come to Russia and wanted me to meet him.
One thing led to another, and basically I got hooked.”
In Moscow, Stone met multiple times with Snowden, who has
been living in exile in Russia since evading the U.S. government’s
attempts to arrest him for espionage. “He’s articulate, smart, very
much the same,” he said. “I’ve been seeing him off and on for a
year — actually, more than that. I saw him last week or two
weeks ago to show him the final film.”
He added, “He is consistent: He believes so thoroughly in reform
of the Internet that he has devoted himself to this cause. …
Because of the Russian hours, he stays up all night. He’s a night
owl, and he’s always in touch (with the outside world), and he’s
working on some kind of constitution for the Internet with other
people. So he’s very busy.
“And he stays in that 70 percent-computer world. He’s on another
planet that way. His sense of humor has gotten bigger, his
tolerance. He’s not really in Russia in his mind — he’s in some
planetary position up there. And Lindsay Mills, the woman he’s
loved for 10 years — really, it’s a serious affair — has moved there
to be with him.”
Spending time with Snowden, and researching what happened to
him, Stone said, “It’s an amazing story. Here’s a young man, 30
years old at that time, and he does something that’s so powerful.
Who at 30 years old would do that, sacrificing his life in that way?
We met with him many times in Moscow, and we did a lot more
research, and we went ahead.” He added, “I think he’s a historical
figure of great consequence.”
Despite the director’s involvement in the movie, which stars
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden and Shailene Woodley as Mills,
“No studio would support it,” he said. “It was extremely difficult to
finance, extremely difficult to cast. We were doing another one of
these numbers I had done before, where pre-production is paid
for by essentially the producer and myself, where you’re living on
a credit card.”
Eventually, financing came through from France and Germany.
“The contracts were signed, like eight days before we started,” he
noted. “It’s a very strange thing to do (a story about) an American
man, and not be able to finance this movie in America. And that’s
very disturbing, if you think about its implications on any subject
that is not overtly pro-American.
“They say we have freedom of expression, but thought is
financed, and thought is controlled, and the media is controlled.
This country is very tight on that, and there’s no criticism allowed
at a certain level. You can make movies about civil rights leaders
who are dead, but it’s not easy to make one about a current
man.”
“Snowden” opens in the U.S. on September 16.

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