24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Political Films

'42' star: Jackie Robinson pic shows we're 'evolving as a race'

June 12, 2012 |  6:29 pm

Robi
Jackie Robinson died 40 years ago this fall. But lest anyone think the Brooklyn Dodgers icon is best viewed as a relic of history in these days of multicutural baseball, a star of the upcoming Robinson film “42” says that the barrier-breaking baseball player is as relevant as ever.

“After electing Barack Obama, it seems so natural we can beat the crap out of him,” Hamish Linklater, who plays Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca in the movie, said by phone from the film's Alabama set. “Every now and then it’s nice to say ‘maybe we are a evolving as a race and a people.’ A baseball movie is a way to offer a little bit of hope.”

Linklater, best known as deadpan brother Matthew Kimble in TV's “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” tackles the role of a Dodgers pitcher who was Robinson’s teammate during the infielder’s game-changing debut season of 1947. (Branca was one of the few Dodgers willing to line up next to Robinson on opening day. Major League Baseball is commemorating the 65th anniversary of Robinson's iconic season this year.)

Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) wrote and is directing the movie, which looks at General Manager Branch Rickey’s  decision to sign Robinson and Manager Leo Durocher’s choice to play him in the face of a fierce backlash. Harrison Ford stars as Rickey while up-and-comer Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson.

Linklater describes the film, which Legendary Pictures is financing and Warner Bros. will release at the start of next year's baseball season, as “a sports movie and a social justice movie rolled into one.” “Sports is such a great contextualizer,” he added. (The "42" is, of course, a reference to Robinson's number, which has become a symbol of cross-racial heterogeneity throughout sports.)

At 86, Branca is the only surviving star from that 1947 team. His back story is fascinating in its own right. Though he won 21 games that year and was a three-time All-Star, Branca became best known for an ill-fated relief appearance in 1951 in which he gave up the so-called “Shot Heard 'Round the World” to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson. Branca later found out Thomson was stealing signs but kept quiet for decades because he and the Giants slugger had become friends.

On top of that, Branca learned late in life that his mother was Jewish but that she had kept the fact from him and his more than dozen siblings after fleeing Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century.

“None of that is really in this film,” Linklater quipped. “But it would make a great movie.”

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-- Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Jackie Robinson and his teammates at Ebbets Field in April 1947. Credit: AP


Iran's Kiarostami: I'm not rushing to shoot there again

May 31, 2012 |  7:30 am

As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran continues to restrict free speech in the country, directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi have to take other steps to make movies
With "A Separation" the reigning Oscar foreign-language winner, Iranian film has perhaps never been more in the global spotlight. And yet with Iran's artists continuing to face free-speech issues, some of its leading directors have never been less willing to make movies there.

"A Separation" director Asghar Farhadi is taking his next production to Paris, where for the first time he will use Europe, not Iran, as his backdrop, in a movie that has him casting French actors such as Marion Cottilard.

Now Abbas Kiarostami, the eminence grise of Iranian cinema,  says he too is in no hurry to resume working in his home country. After setting and shooting his last two films far outside the Middle East -- in Italy and Japan -- Kiarostami told 24 Frames the new film he is working on will also be shot and set in a place other than Iran and will feature non-Iranian actors.

"All Iranians have grown up with [free-speech] restrictions," he said in a candid interview with 24 Frames explaining his choice. "But when rules are written, we'd find a way to work around it. You can cope. What's really perverse now is the unsaid and irrational rules that every [government] person creates. I don't want to deal with that."

Kiarostami, 71, has been setting films in Iran for nearly four decades, before and after the country's 1979 revolution, and even during the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He won the Palme d’Or in 1997 ("Taste of Cherry") and a Venice special jury prize in 1999 ("The Wind Will Carry Us"). For many Westerners, he has become one of the few ways to understand everyday life in Tehran, where foreign media coverage is severely restricted.

But he said his new film, which he is still writing and declined to offer further details about, will follow the pattern of his last two movies and take place elsewhere. He said he might consider making another Iran-set movie at some point in the future, but it is not something he is planning.

The director's most recent effort, "Like Someone In Love," was well received at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival, where it was picked up for U.S. distribution by Sundance Selects. The movie features Kiarostami's slow-burn takes and the subtle shifting of power between characters throughout the course of a scene.

But those looking for a window into Iran will be disappointed -- the film is set in Japan and tells of the relationship between an elderly professor, a call girl and the girl's boyfriend. It follows his 2010 effort, "Certified Copy," which was about a relationship between a French woman and a British man and was set in Tuscany. (We explore how a host of Iranian directors are handling the question of free speech in a recent Sunday Calendar article, which you can read here.)

Asked if there are ways to touch on Iran-specific issues even when making movies in another country -- perhaps by depicting Iranian emigres to other places, such as Los Angeles -- Kiarostami said he had little desire to attempt that either.
 
"We [Iranians] live in such a bitter situation, and I don't want to make films that are dark and bitter," he said. "It would do too much harm to myself. I don't want to live with darkness and bitterness for six months or a year."

Kiarostami, who continues to reside in Iran, described a situation that remains in flux for many artists. His son, a documentary filmmaker, recently found that his passport had been suspended for a year. When he inquired why, he was told that it was for "a serious crime" but that he wouldn't be given further information, Kiarostami said. The elder Kiarostami said he pushed his son to appeal, but his son is standing pat, afraid the suspension could be extended if he challenged it.

Kiarostami said he does believe other directors can pick up the mantle, noting that even his longtime fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is officially under a 20-year ban for his attempt to chronicle democracy protests, still managed to make a movie last year (the meta documentary "This Is Not a Film").

"There are talented artists who will find a way," Kiarostami said. "The Panahi case is interesting -- he was able to make a film last year and send it to Cannes." (Though it should be noted that Panahi had to put the movie on a USB drive and smuggle it out of the country hidden inside a cake.)

Kiarostami said he hoped other filmmakers continued making movies in Iran -- particularly younger directors, who he said have more of a stomach for the capricious rules and the effort required to circumvent them. 

But he isn't optimistic about those rules changing, in large part because he doesn't feel any changes are forthcoming to the political situation from which the restrictions stem. "The petrol is keeping the country imprisoned," he said, offering a thought popular with many Iran-based democracy advocates.

He added, "The day we run out of petrol is the day Iran will be free."

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-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Abbas Kiarostami at the Cannes Film Festival last week. Credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP/Getty Images

 


Documents provide new insight into Kathryn Bigelow's Bin Laden movie

May 23, 2012 |  5:05 pm

Bigelow

The release of hundreds of pages of government documents Tuesday has fanned a simmering controversy in Washington over how much access the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon granted director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for their upcoming movie on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

But in Hollywood, the documents raise eyebrows for a different reason: They provide insight into how the Oscar-winning filmmakers behind "The Hurt Locker" are attempting to craft their secrecy-shrouded movie, which already had been in the works before the dramatic raid in Pakistan last May in which Bin Laden died.

The emails and meeting transcripts obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch reveal that the filmmakers got access to a Navy SEAL who was involved in orchestrating the raid, and toured "the Vault," a CIA building where planning for the operation took place.

The documents also show how the filmmakers are attempting to construct a narrative of the years leading up to Bin Laden’s death, including debates among CIA and White House officials and rehearsals of the maneuver in the final weeks of preparation.

“Part of the challenge for us is to capture how difficult this was because there is a version of it that in hindsight, it just looks like it fell into place,” Boal told Department of Defense officials at a meeting last July, according to a transcript. “That is why I just wanted to ask you hypothetically about what could have happened wrong, because it makes it more dramatic when it all goes right.”

The access Bigelow and Boal have had to CIA, DOD and other government officials is not unheard of for Hollywood productions. “Battleship” director Peter Berg embedded for a month with Navy SEALs in western Iraq as research for his upcoming SEAL film “Lone Survivor,” and filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd was granted an hour with President Bush for a 2003 movie he wrote for Showtime, “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.”

Bigelow's untitled movie -- which is sometimes referred to by the name of its production company, Zero Dark Thirty -- commenced production in India and Jordan this spring, with a cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain. 

Controversy over the project first surfaced last August, when Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the CIA and the DOD asking for an investigation into whether the White House had granted the filmmakers access to classified information that could prove useful to America's enemies.

The records publicized by Judicial Watch this week reignited the debate, but representatives for Sony Pictures, Bigelow and Boal declined to comment on them, merely reiterating the statement they issued last August:

“Our upcoming film project about the decade long pursuit of Bin Laden has been in the works for many years and integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, as well as the cooperative strategies and implementation by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency,” the statement said. “Indeed, the dangerous work of finding the world’s most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation. This was an American triumph, both heroic, and non-partisan and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.”

The movie is scheduled to open Dec. 19.

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-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and director of photography Barry Ackroyd on the set of "The Hurt Locker" Credit: Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment


Tribeca 2012: Cuban actors materialize in Miami

April 28, 2012 | 11:38 pm

Unanoc
Two Cuban actors who went missing in Miami 10 days ago en route to the Tribeca Film Festival have surfaced, announcing they have indeed defected to the United States.

“Una Noche’s” Javier Nunez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, both 20, made an appearance this weekend on America TeVe,  a local Spanish-language station, saying that they were in good health and were seeking political asylum.

The Havana-raised actors, who are a couple, told Reuters that they began to think about leaving Cuba after a trip to the Berlin Film Festival this winter. They  were staying with relatives of de la Torre’s in Miami and have hired a lawyer to help with their asylum claim.

The pair had gone missing from the Miami airport after arriving there on layover to New York with a producer and a third actor from the film, Dariel Arrechada. When the other two arrived in New York, they found that the checked luggage belonging to Florian and de la Torre was empty, suggesting a pre-meditated plan to defect.

Though athletes and actors have commonly defected from Cuba, the pair’s instance had attracted particular interest because their film casts them as a brother and sister who also seek to leave the island in a homemade raft.

Their situation became even more poignant Thursday night when the movie, directed by the young British director Lucy Mulloy,  won three jury prizes at the festival, including a best actor kudo for Florian. The actor shared the honor with Arrechada.

Arrechada told the audience at an award ceremony that he missed his co-star and found it strange to accept the award without him present.

Earlier, Mulloy told 24 Frames she was surprised to learn of the pair's disappearance. "They were excited to be actors in Cuba; I worked with them for months and had no idea they were thinking about this," she said.

More as it develops.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Florian and de la Torre in "Una Noche." Credit: Tribeca Film Festival


‘Airplane’ director: Andrew Breitbart was a ‘terrific guy’

March 2, 2012 |  9:59 pm

Breitb
One doesn’t imagine George Clooney, James Cameron or most other mainstream Hollywood filmmakers rending their garments for Andrew Breitbart.

The conservative firebrand and founder of the Big Hollywood website, who died Thursday at 43 of an apparent heart attack, reserved a certain kind of vitriol for the filmmaking establishment, whom he saw as out of touch and agenda-peddling, to name two lesser charges. As my colleague Patrick Goldstein wrote in Friday’s Times, Big Hollywood has been fond of running headlines like “Game Change: Meet the leftists who turned HBO into a pro-Obama Super-PAC."

But at least one successsful filmmaker says that Breitbart is a man to be missed.

“He was a terrific guy,” David Zucker, the director behind “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun,” told 24 Frames shortly after Breitbart died Thursday. “He’s everything that people say he was: great,” said Zucker, from whom the comments come as little surprise -- he's a known supporter of conservative causes. “I think of his quote that, 'If you’re taking a lot of flak, it means you’re over the target,'" Zucker said.

In his life, Breitbart had returned the favor. The conservative pot-stirrer was supportive of Zucker’s 2008 Michael Moore send-up “An American Carol.” While the late blogger and Zucker were not social friends, the filmmaker said they would see each other at events and bond there. “We felt the same philosophically and politically,” Zucker said.

Among Breitbart’s go-to-claims about Hollywood is that known conservatives do not get the same breaks in the movie business as known liberals. Breitbart and Big Hollywood were prone to pointing to a range of actors and filmmakers to make their case, though such claims always were a little ill-fitting with conservatives' other favorite anti-Hollywood charge: that entertainment moguls are so godless and profit-hungry they would make a movie about Hitler if it was financially expedient.

Zucker, whose “Carol" was not a success, said that, unlike Breitbart, he had the misfortune of working in a medium that did not support his way of thinking. “[Conservative themes] work in radio and the blogs but not in the movies,” he said. “Movies are supported by liberals, not conservatives.”

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Andrew Breitbart. Andrew Burton / Getty Images


'Atlas Shrugged Part 2' to start production in April

February 2, 2012 |  8:29 am

"Atlas Shrugged Part 2" is scheduled to start principal photography in April in Los Angeles and Colorado

"Atlas Shrugged Part 2," the second film in a proposed trilogy adapting Ayn Rand's 1957 capitalist epic, is scheduled to start principal photography in April in Los Angeles and Colorado, with an eye toward an October 2012 theatrical release, producers revealed Thursday.

Businessman and Rand acolyte John Aglialoro, who financed the production and distribution of the first "Atlas Shrugged" film for $20 million, and producer Harmon Kaslow announced that they have raised the necessary financing for the sequel. They declined to reveal the final budget, but in an earlier interview, Kaslow said they were aiming for a production budget in the $10 million-to-$15 million range.

"Atlas Shrugged" the novel takes place at an unspecified future time in which the U.S. is mired in a deep depression and a mysterious phenomenon is causing the nation's leading industrialists to disappear or "strike."

The first "Atlas Shrugged" movie rode a wave of conservative anticipation into theaters in 2011. After failing to impress mainstream film critics, however, it took in only $4.6 million at the box office.

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-- Rebecca Keegan
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Photo: Taylor Schilling plays heroine Dagny Taggart in "Atlas Shrugged Part 1." Credit: Rocky Mountain Pictures


Sundance 2012: Ai Weiwei screening becomes a political event

January 22, 2012 |  4:18 pm

Ai Weiwei. Sundance 2012: Ai Weiwei screening becomes a political event

The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has inspired activist gatherings around the world with his work and his statements about democracy. But on Sunday a new movie about him brought the politics of protest to a different place: a movie theater.

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival's Library Center Theatre and inspired a rare standing ovation and a general activist fervor at the Utah film gathering. Members of the audience praised the director and expressed a willingness to get involved as they nosily exited the theater.

Directed by newcomer Alison Klayman, a freelance journalist in her 20s who spent years with the artist, the movie is a hybrid talking-head/fly-on-the-wall documentary that draws a portrait of a surprisingly accessible political icon. Ai, the 54-year-old son of poet Ai Qing, has become one of China's most potent symbols of artistic dissent thanks largely to social media. He comes across here as a genial everyman, supervising a team of artists who help carry out his visions and displaying a certain amount of mirth, even as he can get deadly serious toward and about government authority.

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance 2012

Klayman has an unusual amount of access to her subject. She spends time with him as he designs the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics but then disavows the structure because of the government's policy of displacement. She delves into his personal life, showing his playful relationship with a son he had with a woman who is not his wife.

And of course she shows the creative process behind, and cultural implications of, his politically inflected work: the painting of an historic urn with the Coca-Cola logo, his Tate Modern show in which millions of hand-painted sunflower seeds were scattered across a giant floor, and an installation that featured the names of victims of the massive earthquake in Sichuan province.

The film spends a great amount of time on that last piece and the circumstances surrounding it. Ai created it to protest the government's shoddy construction of schools that he and many other critics believe led to the death of thousands of children. Ai's outspokenness on the issue leads to a confrontation with police in which he is beaten in the head and given a serious brain injury.

We don't see the seemingly unprovoked attack but we hear it, and we later are shown another face-off with government authorities, who as the months go on increasingly follow and pay attention to Ai in all sorts of insidious ways. (In one semi-comical scene, an official begins videotaping a meal Ai is having with his colleagues and other protesters, prompting one of his assistants to begin photographing the government videographer.)

The movie's emotional punch comes in the final 15 minutes, when we learn that Ai has vanished, presumably whisked away by authorities as part of a larger dissident crackdown. Ai spends 81 days being interrogated at an undisclosed location, during which people around the world show their support with protests online and in the streets. "They silence him but his voice grows louder and louder," reads one stirring tweet, and other supporters take solemn photographs holding placards bearing his name. (Needless to say, the film is not likely to be screened in China.)

Klayman had already returned to her native New York to begin postproduction during that time, but she goes back to China to offer a jolting epilogue to the film. She chronicles the moment when Ai is released but has now been put under a one-year media and travel ban. His outspokenness transmutes into an unsettling silence, with the previously voluble artist telling cameramen he cannot offer any details about his incarceration or even comment about the nature of the ban.

At the post-screening question-and-answer session, Klayman explained that it was this ban that prevented him from coming to Sundance. "A year ago he would have been here," she said. Even a planned video linkup had to be scuttled because of ban-related fears.

"Things have been changing since [he was detained]. He does have to be more cautious." Klayman said. But she added that since the government hit him with a $2-million tax bill, he has grown increasingly discontented and willing to speak out a little more freely." He has seen the film, she told the audience, who was given information and exhorted to tweet about it upon leaving the theater.

In one of the film’s numerous scenes of defiance, Ai describes his motivation for his art and his statements. "If you don't publicize it, it's like it never happened," he said. There was little danger of that Sunday.

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--Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry." Credit: Sundance Film Festival


Meryl Streep's next project: A national women's history museum

December 28, 2011 |  2:49 pm

Merylstreepasmargaretthatcher

Meryl Streep arrives in movie theaters Friday with “The Iron Lady,” playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — the first female head of state in the Western world.

Women's place in history is a subject on Streep's mind of late. Her next off-screen project is the National Women's History Museum, an entity that exists so far only in cyberspace and that the actress is trying to get erected in brick and mortar on a site adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“History until the 20th century was written by one member of the human family and it wasn’t the mother,” Streep said in a mid-December interview in New York City with her “Iron Lady” director, Phyllida Lloyd. “It was dad. That’s who wrote history and ... what was important? Movements of armies, sovereignty of nations, all sorts of things. But women were there all along and they have incredible stories that we don’t know anything about.”

Financing for the $400-million museum is being raised privately — Streep donated $1 million to the endeavor — but congressional approval is required for the location, which would place the building near institutions such as the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the American Indian and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. A bill to allow the museum has passed committees in the House and the Senate and is awaiting action by the full legislative bodies.

“It’s a political football, I gather,” Streep said. “It’s a thing that everybody in Congress agrees with but then they attach it to something that no one agrees with .... It would be a beacon to women all over the world, because there really is no such museum. There are cottage museums — there’s a quilt museum, there’s a cowgirl museum.”

The normally private Streep has made herself the public face of the museum effort, hosting events and sending fundraising letters. Her participation in inspired, Streep said, by her grandmother, who lived before the passage of the 19th Amendment.

“My grandmother had three children in school and she would have to go to the golf course and get my grandfather off the ninth tee to make him go to the school board election, 'cause she was not allowed to vote,” Streep said. “She’s so vivid in my life. I think that that memory of when we were disenfranchised is important to learn.”

“There are so many great stories,” Streep said. “Every child knows the name of our first traitor, Benedict Arnold, but nobody knows the name of the first female soldier to take a bullet for the U.S., who enlisted under her dead brother’s name. Nobody knows Deborah Sampson’s name. That’s a great story. Or Elizabeth Freeman, who was the first slave to sue for her own freedom and won in Great Barrington, Mass. Every boy and girl should know these stories .... I hope we get it done.”

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-- Rebecca Keegan

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Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe in "The Iron Lady." Credit: Alex Bailey / Pathe Productions/Weinstein Co.


Meryl Streep: Thatcher would be appalled by 'hijacking of conservatism'

December 21, 2011 | 12:00 pm

Merylstreepasironlady
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would hardly recognize the modern Republican party in the U.S., said Meryl Streep, who plays the conservative icon in the new movie, "The Iron Lady."

"I think she’d be appalled by the hijacking of conservatism in this country," Streep said in an interview appearing in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. "And yet she definitely was a fiscal conservative. She’s a brand of  Republican that doesn’t exist anymore, is not allowed to exist."

"The Iron Lady," which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd from a partially fictional script by Abi Morgan, is set in the present day, in which Thatcher, 86, has sustained a series of strokes and is suffering from dementia. As she's sorting the belongings of her deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), Thatcher begins to recollect key moments from her 1980s political tenure -- moments that bear a remarkable resemblance to modern times, including labor disputes, terror attacks and economic uncertainty. Thatcher's close alliance with Ronald Reagan and her privatizing of public utilities in England are also covered.

In researching the film, Streep said she learned about Thatcher from personal interviews with many of the former prime minister's colleagues, and found her to be far less conservative than her modern American counterparts on issues such as abortion, gay rights, healthcare and climate change.

"Americans think of conservatives in a completely different way," Streep said. "We think of conservatives as people who debunk the science on global warming, where Margaret Thatcher was an early proponent of this idea. She didn’t dismantle the national healthcare, she realized that was a right you couldn’t take away from people. She was pro-choice. On one of our trips to Washington I spoke with someone who had been in the room when she took Vice President Quayle and President Bush to task vehemently to not use [abortion] as a political football, that it was unconscionable to do that. Today she would be drummed out of the American conservative party just for that. There were people who were engaged in homosexual scandals in her cabinet who were close to her and she said, 'You stand by me all day today. That’s how we’ll handle this.'"

For more from Streep on Thatcher, and women's roles in politics and Hollywood, see this story in Sunday's newspaper.

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-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: Alex Bailey, Pathe Productions /The Weinstein Co.


In Egypt, it's the non-revolution films that speak volumes

December 19, 2011 |  8:00 am

An image from Mohamed Diab's "Cairo 678," which looks at an unspoken epidemic of sexual harassment in Egypt..
It's hard enough for a director to react to global political events. Anticipating them? It might be easier to predict Tim Tebow's career arc.
 
But as violence engulfs Cairo for a fourth straight day -- with at least 10 protesters killed in clashes with the military near Tahrir Square  in this charged city -- two feature-film directors are dealing with their unlikely role as a sort of Mideastern political seer.

Maybe most striking is that neither of them made a movie about politics.

Amr Salama's "Asmaa," which is currently playing in Egyptian theaters, tackles the stigma of HIV, while Mohamed Diab's "Cairo 678," which played here earlier this year, looks at the unspoken epidemic of sexual harassment.

If neither seems the stuff of taboo-busting drama, consider that Egypt didn't even have a law against sexual harassment until 2008. AIDS is discussed even less.

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