Russia court bans anti-Islam film 'Innocence of Muslims'

MOSCOW -- A Moscow district court on Monday found a film that has triggered sometimes violent protests throughout the Muslim world to be offensive and banned its broadcast in Russia.

After viewing "Innocence of Muslims," Judge Yevgeny Komissarov agreed with prosecutor Viktoria Maslova, who told the court that “the movie negatively depicts the Muslim religion and assists the growth of religious intolerance in the Russian Federation."

The ban, which goes into effect Nov. 6, would require Internet servers featuring the film to block its viewing by Russian audiences or risk having their sites blocked and potentially face charges of violating a Russian law against extremist activities.

Clerics and activists from Russia's large Muslim community welcomed the ruling on the film, which was made in California.

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New film takes 'quiet' look at Mexico's drug-war violence

MEXICO CITY -- A new documentary on drug-war violence in Mexico is perhaps most remarkable for what it does not portray.

There are no shootouts, no decapitated bodies hanging from highway overpasses.

Instead, award-winning filmmaker Natalia Almada takes her audience into the quiet, busy world of the Humaya Gardens cemetery in Culiacan, the Sinaloa capital considered the historic center of Mexican drug trafficking.

Here death is relentless. With its garish mausoleums and extravagant crypts, the cemetery is the final resting place for numerous drug cartel capos and their legions of mostly young henchmen.

The film, "El Velador" ("The Night Watchman"), follows Martin, who works the graveyard shift, so to speak, at Humaya Gardens. He arrives at sunset, sits or dozes through the night (it is too dangerous to actually patrol the grounds after dark, he says, because of partying, trigger-happy drug goons) and tidies up in the morning, picking up beer bottles and sweeping before walking off in the yellow daylight.

"I fell in love with him as a character," Almada said, citing Martin's "quiet, stoic presence."

"He asks us to live with him, in the cemetery, at his pace," she said. "He is the clock of the cemetery."

Almada said her goal in making "El Velador" was to offer a "more contemplative" view of the violence that dominates Mexico today, not the sensationalistic portrait too common in the daily media.

"I wanted to humanize it, to put it on a more human scale," she said in a telephone interview from the U.S., where the documentary has been screening this week.

Almada's film is stark and sparse. There is virtually no dialogue. Martin occasionally offers a comment; we hear a single conversation among gravediggers about whether the latest kingpin has really been slain, as authorities claim.

What we do hear are the sounds of daily life amid the dead: a shovel hitting earth, a priest's intonations, a child playing hopscotch on tombs. And, from the radio in Martin's beat-up truck and his wavy black-and-white TV set, we hear the litany of drug-war mayhem as broadcasters read the "nota roja," the crime news. Bodies dumped roadside, young men kidnapped; "Culiacan has become a warzone," the broadcaster says.

And at times it seems the cemetery can barely keep up. In one sequence, the builders are finishing a gravesite even as a body waits in a hearse and a woman is heard wailing for her son; the concrete crypt is drying as mourning wreathes are being gathered.

"It's also the futility of it all," Almada said. The death toll rises and rises. Martin waters the dirt. A widow mops her husband's mausoleum, over and over again.

Almada filmed in Humaya Gardens off and on for several months in 2009-2010.

"El Velador" is a co-production of Altamura Films, Latino Public Broadcasting and American Documentary/POV. It begins airing in the Los Angeles area Friday on PBS affiliates. Check local listings.

You can watch a trailer here, and the film will be streaming on the POV website until the end of the year.


In drug-trafficking hub, artist is in demand

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

In Sinaloa, the drug trade has infiltrated "every corner of life"

-- Tracy Wilkinson

Video: A trailer from the documentary "El Velador."  Credit: Altamura Films

Pakistani officials distance themselves from minister's bounty offer

Pakistan-railwaysISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s government on Sunday distanced itself from remarks made by a federal minister who offered up to $100,000 to anyone who would kill the maker of an anti-Islamic film that sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world.

Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour announced his intent to put up the bounty Saturday, a day after a wave of unrest sparked by the film swept through Islamabad and other major cities in Pakistan, leaving more than 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. One of the people involved in making the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is an Egyptian Coptic Christian from Southern California who has gone into hiding.

A 14-minute trailer for the film released on YouTube portrays the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a fraud. On Saturday, Bilour told reporters in the northwest city of Peshawar that he would be willing to face arrest for announcing the bounty if necessary.

“If any international court declares me guilty for announcing the bounty, then I am ready to be hanged in the name of the holy prophet Muhammad,” Bilour said. “We are not against freedom of expression, but the misuse of that right to hurt the religious sentiments of others is totally wrong and intolerable.”

Bilour’s remarks triggered a strong disavowal from members of his party, the Awami National Party, which is aligned with President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), as well as from top government leaders. A spokesman for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the BBC in an interview that the government had disassociated itself from Bilour’s comments.

“He is not a member of the PPP. He is an Awami National Party politician and therefore the prime minister will speak to the head of the [Awami] party to decide the next step,” Shafqat Jalil, Ashraf’s spokesman, told the BBC. “He will stay in his post for now.”

The controversial video trailer triggered massive protests across the Muslim world. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi following a demonstration against the film.

In Pakistan, advertisements featuring President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video failed to discourage thousands of angry Pakistanis from rampaging through the streets of Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and other cities on Friday in some of the worst popular unrest that the country has seen in years.


On the road to Damascus: Thirsty guards, bribes and menace

Chinese cancel ceremony in anger at Japanese claims to islands

Must Reads: Guerrilla artists, China protests and uneasy Aleppo

--Alex Rodriguez. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali from Peshawar contributed.

Photo: A file photo dated May 19, 2011, shows Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Pakistan's minister for railways, being interviewed during a visit to Amritsar, India. Credit: Ramindar Pal Singh / European Pressphoto Agency.


Hezbollah leader joins protest against film in Beirut

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan NasrallahBEIRUT -- The head of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement appeared Monday at a massive rally assailing the United States and warning that broadcast of a film produced in California mocking Islam could have grave consequences.

“America must understand that releasing the entire film will have dangerous, very dangerous repercussions around the world,”  an emotional Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, told supporters gathered in a Beirut suburb.

The appearance suggested that Hezbollah, an influential political and military force in Lebanon, is determined to place itself in the vanguard of global Muslim outrage against the incendiary film.

Monday’s anti-U.S. rally here was among a string of demonstrations in Muslim communities, from Tunis to Jakarta, following the release on the Internet of a trailer for the amateur, privately produced film, which ridicules the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith.

Tens of thousands of pro-Hezbollah supporters attended the rally in the Dahiyeh district, a stronghold of the group.

The rally was boisterous but peaceful and occurred far from the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy. Demonstrations elsewhere in the Muslim world have targeted U.S. diplomatic missions.

The participation of Nasrallah, who is seldom seen in public, reportedly because he fears assassination, underscored Hezbollah’s apparent determination to use the outrage over the film to bolster its standing as a moral force in the Arab world. The group’s strong backing of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is battling an uprising, has cost it considerable support among Arabs.

On Sunday, a Hezbollah-controlled television station, Al Manar, reported that Nasrallah regarded the issue of the film as “more serious than what’s going on in Syria” — a position disputed by Syrians and others who say Assad's forces have killed of thousands of civilians.

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group with close ties to Iran, a predominately Shiite nation, and to Assad, a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, a Shiite offshoot. Most Syrians are members of the far more populous Sunni branch of Islam.

While deeply divided on the issue of Syria, Sunni and Shiite groups have both condemned the film.

During Monday’s rally, Nasrallah demanded that the United States and the international community block release of the full film. He insisted that the trailer should no longer be available on the Internet and called for a boycott of websites that show it.

In his comments Sunday, the Hezbollah chief dismissed as “hypocrisy, deception and double standards” the Western arguments that blocking the video would violate freedom of speech. He called for “an international resolution criminalizing the defamation of heavenly religions.”

The U.S. classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah says it leads the global resistance to  Israel.

While anti-U.S. protests focusing on the film erupted last week, Hezbollah held off on its public broadsides until the end of a three-day visit to Lebanon by Pope Benedict XVI, who left Beirut on Sunday evening. Nasrallah lauded the pope’s visit as “historic and extraordinary,” and Hezbollah members participated in festivities associated with the visit.

More Hezbollah-organized rallies denouncing the United States and the video are scheduled for this week elsewhere in Lebanon.


Riots break out in Afghanistan in protest of anti-Islam film

U.N. investigators report more abuses, 'jihadist militants' in Syria

Pakistani protests against anti-Islam film leave at least 1 dead

-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks to a crowd during a rally in suburban Beirut denouncing an anti-Islam film. Credit: Hussein Malla / Associated Press.

Pakistani protests against anti-Islamic film leave at least 1 dead

This post has been updated. See the note below.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Protests in Pakistan against a film mocking the prophet Muhammad intensified Monday as demonstrators set ablaze buildings in the northwest and hurled stones at riot police in the southern city of Karachi, the nation’s commercial hub.

At least one protester was killed when about 800 demonstrators clashed with police in the northwest region of Upper Dir, along the Afghan border, local authorities said. Protesters torched a press club and the homes and offices of government officials, said Muhammad Mukhtiar, a local police officer. Five people were arrested.

Police did not say how the demonstrator was killed.

PHOTOS: Protests over anti-Islam film spread

In Karachi, hundreds of students affiliated with a fundamentalist organization, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, set on fire American flags, burned tires in the street and threw stones at police, authorities said. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators and arrested at least 40 people.

On Sunday, demonstrators in Karachi, the country's largest city, tried to storm the U.S. Consulate and set ablaze three police vans and a bus.

Other demonstrations against the film also broke out in Lahore, the country’s second-largest city, and the northwest city of Peshawar. Leaders of Pakistan’s religious right-wing parties have promised to step up protests across the country this week.

[Updated  9:40 a.m., Sept. 17: With the protests ratcheting up, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Ashraf ordered the immediate blocking of YouTube, the website on which a video trailer of the film has been posted. According to a statement issued by Ashraf’s office, he issued the order after YouTube “refused to heed the advice of the government of Pakistan to remove the blasphemous film from its site.”

YouTube will remain blocked in Pakistan until the trailer is removed from the site, according to the statement.]


Riots break out in Afghanistan in protest of anti-Islam film

Panetta in China for high-level talks, to tour naval base

Suu Kyi's U.S. visit may lead to more easing of sanctions on Myanmar

-- Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad and Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar

Syrian conflict claims the life of another young filmmaker


ANTAKYA, Turkey -- Tamer Awam, a Syrian documentary filmmaker, died Sunday of shrapnel wounds in the northern city of Aleppo, according to friends and activists.

Awam, 35, was wounded while filming in Aleppo’s Izaa neighborhood, one of the city’s most dangerous districts. Izaa has been the site of frequent clashes between rebels and pro-government forces.

Awam, who was based in Germany, traveled to Syria several times during the conflict. He often accompanied foreign journalists as a translator while shooting his own footage. He was a member of Syria’s Druze minority and was a native of the southern city of Sweida.

His most recent film, a 24-minute documentary, "Memories at a Checkpoint" (see above video, in Arabic), shows life in Idlib province during the conflict. Awam portrayed the destruction of houses, infrastructure and people’s lives in the aftermath of fighting. He toured Idlib villages and towns, interviewing civilians and fighters.

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Women on Cannes red carpet -- but not in directors' chairs


This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

Jane Fonda and Alec Baldwin were there on the red carpet. Marilyn Monroe made an appearance -- if only on a poster. There was even an improbable camel.

But one thing was glaringly missing at the Cannes Film Festival as it kicked off Wednesday in a glamorous blitz of tuxedos, ballgowns and the flashing of cameras.

Not a single film competing at the rarefied French festival was directed by a woman -- a fact that French feminists lamented in an open letter published in Le Monde and the Guardian.

“Never let the girls think they can one day have the presumptuousness to make movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps, except when attached to the arm of a Prince Charming,” the letter said, sarcastically lauding their “exemplary selection” that relegated women to the festival posters.

Glamorous starlets are a staple of Cannes, as the Marilyn Monroe poster hints, but only one female director has ever won the top prize: Jane Campion, who snagged the Palme d'Or award in 1993 for "The Piano." The all-male lineup is a shift from last year, when four female directors were included.

"Women, mind your spools of thread! And men, as the Lumière Brothers did before you, mind your film reels! And let the Cannes film festival competition forever be a man's world!" the sardonic letter from the feminist group La Barbe concluded.

Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux told the Associated Press that although men are dominating the event, “it's not the fault of Cannes.” A San Diego State University study found that women directed only 5% of the 250 highest-grossing domestic films last year, a drop from two years ago.

“It wouldn't be very nice to select a film because the film is not good but it is directed by a woman,” Fremaux argued to the Associated Press.

In response to his argument, a lengthy list of female writers, directors and producers from around the globe created an online petition calling for Cannes to "commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films" and to open up a dialogue about women in cinema.

"Mr. Fremaux is correct in stating that women's rights must be addressed year round," the petition says.

[For the record, 10:38 p.m., May 16: A previous version of this post said Jane Campion won the Palme d'Or for "The Piano Lesson." The title is "The Piano."]


In tribute, Mexico fondly remembers Carlos Fuentes

Amnesty International: Mali facing its worst crisis in 50 years

Half as many women dying in pregnancy, childbirth as 20 years ago

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Actors Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, director Wes Anderson, actors Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton arrive for the opening ceremony and screening of "Moonrise Kingdom" at Cannes in southern France on Wednesday. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press

Oscars 2012: 'A Separation' lauded as first Iranian Oscar film

Click here to see more photos.
REPORTING FROM TEHRAN -- It was a film that met with mixed feelings in Iran when it first came out. Was the domestic drama “A Separation” playing to the West by showing a darker side of Iran?

But Tehran wasn’t immune from Oscar mania when the film entered the race for best foreign-language film. Some Iranians stayed up until dawn Monday to watch filmmaker Asghar Farhadi accept the first Academy Award for an Iranian movie. Accolades for Farhadi poured into Iranian newspapers.

“This event is a clear hint that art, in its general meaning, and cinema in particular, are media that are able to help humanity to overcome aggression, enable us to bring our hearts closer to each other, and enable us to have dialogue among civilizations instead of conflicts and clashes,” former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami wrote in an open letter to the filmmaker published in Aftab News.

PHOTOS: 2012 Academy Awards

Javad Shamaqdari, the director of the Iran Cinema Organization, argued its victory was a sign that “American judgment bowed before the Iranian culture and Oscar voters showed a different reaction to the Zionist lobby, which is escalating war,” the Tehran Times reported.

The movie met with some resistance when an Iranian committee was deciding which film to submit to the Academy Awards, Farhadi told The Times last year. Some worried its themes of divorce and murder were too dark. Others said it only pleased the West because it depicted a troubled marriage in Iran.

“I'm not one of the people whose work the government particularly likes,” Farhadi told The Times.

In his acceptance speech Sunday night, Farhardi said, "At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country Iran is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.

"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment."

Feelings about the film in Iran are still mixed despite the Oscar glow. Though the film is a drama about a couple on the verge of splitting up, "A Separation" also resonated with audiences who saw it as an allegory for Iranian politics and society.

“Farhadi depicted the hypocrisy and concealing of truth in our society. He was clever to keep the end of the film open to different interpretations," cinema enthusiast Mohsen Ferdowsi said.

Beforehand, only one film from Iran had been nominated for the foreign Oscar. The win comes at a tense time for Iran, which is facing pressure over its nuclear program. The United Nations atomic watchdog agency faulted Iran for dodging questions and stepping up its production of enriched uranium.


Iran's 'A Separation' bringing people together

Asghar Farhadi's 'A Separation' aims for Oscar hat trick

U.N. nuclear agency faults Iran for not answering key questions

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Asghar Farhadi of Iran poses with the Oscar for best foreign language film for "A Separation" during the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Credit: Joel Ryan / Associated Press

Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar on his Oscar-nominated 'Footnote'

Joseph Cedar
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- The Israeli film "Footnote" was nominated in  the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film category Tuesday.  This is Israel's fourth nomination in recent years and the second for producer Joseph Cedar, whose movie "Beaufort" put the country's film industry back on the red carpet in 2008 after more than two decades.

This year's entry is markedly different from previously nominated films. "Beaufort" told the tale of the last days of Israel's decades-long entanglement in South Lebanon; in the animated "Waltz with Bashir," director Ari Folman reconstructed his own memories as a young soldier when that war had just begun. "Ajami" was a Jewish-Arab co-production that placed the mixed town of Jaffa in the spotlight.

"Footnote"  portrays the relations between two Talmudic scholars, a father and son occupying the same niche in the unforgiving and stubborn world of academia and scholarship. The relatively obscure and off-topic subject matter was a gamble. International reviews were mixed but it paid off hugely with Israeli movie-goers and left its mark at Cannes, winning the best screenplay award.

"Who knows, maybe this time it will happen," Cedar told Israeli journalists, saying it was flattering to share the nomination with a list of excellent movies.

The other nominees in the foreign language category include the Iranian film "A Separation," by Asghar Farhadi. Speaking to journalists after the announcement, Cedar said he and Farhadi had met on several occasions.

"We have had very interesting conversations," Cedar said. And assuming that he understood Farhadi's interpreter correctly, "there are more than a few things common to our situations." Cedar said there was "something poetic" about the competition.

The other films nominated in the category are "Bullhead" from Belgium, "In Darkness" from Poland and "Monsieur Lazhar" from Canada.

The Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.


Egypt marks anniversary of 'Arab Spring' revolution

Martin Scorsese on being reviewed: 'You can't be bothered'

Sundance: Gina Rodriguez of 'Filly Brown' is the newest 'It' girl

-- Batsheva Sobelman

Photo: Filmmaker Joseph Cedar at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Credit: Stephanie Cornfield / For The Times


Mexican star Kate del Castillo shocks with praise for drug lord

Photo: Mexican actress Kate del Castillo poses in a photo last year in Beverly Hills, as her hit show "La Reina del Sur" was winding down. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- She played a major drug trafficker in a hit TV series. And now popular Mexican actress Kate del Castillo has sympathetic words for a real one.

In a provocative letter that has unleashed shockwaves across Mexican radio talk shows and social media, Del Castillo said this week that she regarded billionaire drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman more credible than "governments that hide truths from me, even when they are painful ones." 

"Senor, Chapo," she continues. "Wouldn't it be really cool if you started trafficking for the good?" She goes on to suggest the fugitive capo of the Sinaloa cartel could spread cures for disease and food for street children. "Traffic with corrupt politicians, not women and children who end up as slaves," she says. "Go for it, sir. You would be the hero of heroes."

The missive would be easy to dismiss if it weren't for Del Castillo's fame, both here and in the U.S. She starred as a drug boss in "La Reina del Sur" (The Queen of the South), a Telemundo production whose finale in the U.S. last year was a Spanish-language television record-breaker. She also starred in a recurring role in the quirky American series "Weeds," and recently did a guest turn on "CSI: Miami," as a Mexican police chief.

The full letter, in Spanish, can be seen here.

"What was she thinking? ... I don't know," Javier Poza, a radio host, said after reading the text on the air (link in Spanish). His was one of dozens of chat shows consumed by speculation over the actress' motives and meanings.

"Was that Kate talking, or Teresa Mendoza," read one of the many social network comments, alluding to the title trafficker in "Queen of the South." 

Del Castillo's letter came on the same day the U.S. Treasury Department, in adding three Guzman associates to its "kingpin" blacklist, called the fugitive capo "the world's most powerful drug trafficker."


Dirty Money: A series on drug gangs and money laundering

Wife of fugitive Mexican drug lord gives birth in L.A. County

Suspicion in Mexico's Sinaloa cartel

-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Mexican actress Kate del Castillo poses in a photo last year in Beverly Hills, as her hit show "La Reina del Sur" was winding down. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times


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