NEW YORK – HBO has yanked Oliver Stone's documentary about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — who recently executed three dissidents and imprisoned over 80 journalists in a bloody crackdown on his critics.
Stone spent 30 hours over three days interviewing Castro in February 2002 for Commandante, which was scheduled to air next month.
"I thought he was warm and bright," Stone told Salon.com after interviewing Castro. "He's a very driven man, a very moral man. He's very concerned about his country. He's selfless in that way."
But HBO now wants Stone, the controversial, conspiracy-theorist director behind Nixon and JFK, to return to Cuba and re-interview Castro about the recent murders and the crackdown.
"The feeling was that, in light of current events in Cuba, the film now seems incomplete," says one source. "And with what's going on in Iraq, perhaps there's less tolerance now for dictators."
Castro's recent crackdown began March 18, one day before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Among his victims were three men who took control of a ferry traveling from one side of Havana to another. Caught by the Cuban Coast Guard, they were executed by firing squad three days later.
Castro also sentenced 82 independent journalists critical of his regime to prison terms ranging from 12 to 28 years.
"Stone filmed this in February '02 and a lot of events have happened since then, especially the last two weeks, that have changed the perception of what's important in Cuba right now," says a source. "Stone's film now seems somewhat dated."
HBO's move was applauded by the Cuban-American National Foundation, a 60,000-member organization opposed to the Castro regime.
"We definitely applaud HBO for having the forethought and insight for not playing into Castro's hands — especially when peaceful acts are allowed in most other countries in the world," said CANF spokeswoman Camila Ruiz.
"It's the wrong timing for this documentary, which is pretty much one-sided. It's amazing how Castro fears information much more than bombs."
HBO is also scheduled to air yet another Stone documentary, Persona Non Grata, which covers the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
After winding up filming on Persona, Stone told Variety that he "understands why suicide bombers feel the way they do."
That documentary is scheduled to air June 5.