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FILE PHOTO: The entrance to Walt Disney studios is seen in Burbank
FILE PHOTO: The entrance to Walt Disney studios is seen in Burbank, California, U.S. August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

April 11, 2019

By Lisa Richwine

BURBANK, Calif. (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co on Thursday will unveil a family-friendly streaming service with TV shows and movies from some of the world’s most popular entertainment franchises in a bid to challenge the digital dominance of Netflix.

The ad-free monthly subscription called Disney+ is set to launch later this year. In addition to Disney films and TV shows, it will feature programming from the Marvel superhero universe, the “Star Wars” galaxy, “Toy Story” creator Pixar animation and the National Geographic channel.

Disney is hosting Wall Street analysts at its Burbank, California, headquarters to showcase the Disney+ app and provide additional details about its online media strategy.

The entertainment giant is trying to transform itself from a cable television powerhouse into a leader of streaming media. Chief Executive Bob Iger in February called streaming the company’s “No. 1 priority.”

The digital push is Disney’s response to cord-cutting, the dropping of cable service that has hit its ESPN sports network and other channels, and the rise of Netflix Inc. The Silicon Valley upstart has amassed 139 million customers worldwide since it began streaming 12 years ago.

The Mouse House will join the market at a time when audiences are facing a host of choices, and monthly bills, for digital entertainment. IPhone maker Apple Inc, AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia and others plan new streaming services.

Disney has not yet announced a price for its new service.

To bolster its potential digital portfolio, Disney recently purchased film and TV assets from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and gained prized properties such as “Avatar.”

In a January regulatory filing, Disney reported losses of more than $1 billion for streaming-related investments in Hulu and technology company BAMtech.

Disney had been supplying new movies such as “Black Panther” and “Beauty and the Beast” to Netflix after their runs in theaters but ended that arrangement this year to feed its own streaming ambitions. The company estimated it is foregoing $150 million in licensing revenue this fiscal year by saving programming for its own platforms.

The Disney+ programming will draw in part from Disney’s deep library of classic family films. It also will include exclusive original content such as a live-action “Star Wars” series called “The Mandalorian,” a show focused on Marvel movie villain Loki, and animated “Monsters at Work,” inspired by hit Pixar movie “Monsters Inc.”

Some new Disney movies, such as a “Lady and the Tramp” remake, will go directly to the Disney+ app. Other new releases will appear on Disney+ after their run in theaters, executives have said.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Australian actor Geoffrey Rush reacts as he arrives at the Federal Court in Sydney
Australian actor Geoffrey Rush reacts as he arrives at the Federal Court in Sydney, Australia, November 8, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

April 11, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush on Thursday won initial damages of A$850,000 ($609,000) after a court ruled that the Australian arm of News Corp defamed him by saying he behaved inappropriately toward a co-star in a production of King Lear.

The Federal Court, which found News Corp’s Nationwide arm and reporter Jonathon Moran’s articles in the Daily Telegraph had failed to prove their allegations were true, will determine further damages later.

“This was in all the circumstances a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind, the very worst kind,” Judge Michael Wigney said in a decision read to a packed courtroom in Sydney.

News Corp had no immediate comment.

Rush, 67, and a star of Australian theater, sued News Corp’s Sydney tabloid over a series of articles that said he was the subject of a complaint to the Sydney Theatre Company regarding the 2015 King Lear production.

Under the headline “KING LEER,” and in later articles, the paper said the actor, in the title role, had been accused by a co-star of unspecified inappropriate conduct.

Rush, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1997 for “Shine” and has since appeared in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, said the stories implied he was a major pervert, or guilty of major depravity, and his lawyer sought “very substantial” damages.

“There are no winners in this case,” Rush told reporters outside the court. “It’s been extremely distressing for everyone involved.”

He thanked his wife and children for their support “during this harrowing time”.

($1=1.3965 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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People walk past a large replica of the iron throne before the premiere of the final season of
FILE PHOTO: People walk past a large replica of the iron throne before the premiere of the final season of “Game of Thrones” at Radio City Music Hall in New York, U.S., April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

April 11, 2019

By Alicia Powell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – American linguist David J. Peterson may have built up the unique and ancient languages for the television series “Game of Thrones” but when it comes to who speaks Valyrian best, there’s no contest.

“The best is Jacob Anderson,” Peterson told Reuters. “He plays Grey Worm on ‘Game of Thrones’ and he’s so good, he’s so good. He is head and shoulders better than me.”

“When I heard him the first time speak the Valyrian language I just said, ‘wow.’ I went back and re-watched it,” he said.

Peterson, a co-founder of the Language Creation Society, started off by building on a few keys words and phrases created by George R.R. Martin in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels that form the basis of the HBO hit medieval fantasy series about warring families.

“I didn’t reference any other languages. After I included all of (Martin’s) material I built it up in a way that I thought book readers and George R.R. Martin himself would expect and appreciate.”

When Peterson got the scripts for the TV show, producers tagged all the lines he had to translate into Valyrian or Dothraki.

He then broke up the language syllable by syllable for the actors, and recorded it for them.

“I record really slow so they can hear exactly how it’s pronounced, and then I record the English for reference,” Peterson said.

Although the final season of “Game of Thrones” starts on Sunday, the languages will go on living.

Peterson has developed a course on the Duolingo foreign language app where fans can learn to speak Dothraki and Valyrian for free. According to the Duolingo app, there are currently over 800,000 active Valyrian learners – more than those learning Norwegian or Hindi.

“I also do all the recordings so that’s my voice that you’re hearing when you use the app. And I also take it myself because it’s nice to brush up,” Peterson said.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Kim Kardashian attends the CFDA Fashion awards in Brooklyn
FILE PHOTO: Kim Kardashian attends the CFDA Fashion awards in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

April 10, 2019

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Reality star Kim Kardashian is studying to be a lawyer, inspired by her success in helping to win the release from U.S. prisons of two women.

Kardashian told Vogue magazine in an interview published on Wednesday that she has begun a four-year apprenticeship with a San Francisco-based law firm under a California program for those without formal qualifications. Kardashian, who dropped out of college, said she aims to take the bar exam in 2022.

The “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star said she made the decision last summer after visiting the White House and persuading President Donald Trump to commute a life sentence handed out to a 63-year-old woman in Tennessee for a first drug offense.

“I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society. I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more,” Kardashian, 38, told Vogue.

Kardashian helped to win clemency in January for another woman in Tennessee who had been convicted as a teenager of murdering a man who paid to have sex with her.

Kardashian said her first year of the apprenticeship involved studying three subjects: criminal law, torts and contracts.

“To me, torts is the most confusing, contracts the most boring, and crime law I can do in my sleep. Took my first test, I got a 100. Super easy for me,” she told Vogue. “The reading is what really gets me. It’s so time-consuming. The concepts I grasp in two seconds.”

While best known for developing beauty and fashion products and showcasing her life with her sisters on the TV show “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Kardashian has some powerful legal DNA.

Her late father, Robert Kardashian, was a prominent Los Angeles lawyer who was part of the legal team representing football star O.J. Simpson in his 1995 trial and acquittal for double murder.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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FILE PHOTO: The cast of The Lion King performs the opening number at the 62nd Annual Tony Awards in New York
FILE PHOTO: The cast of “The Lion King” performs the opening number at the 62nd Annual Tony Awards in New York, June 15, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo

April 10, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – With stunning scenery of Africa and some talking wildlife, Disney dropped its first full length trailer for its realistic-looking remake of “The Lion King” on Wednesday, offering a glimpse of the highly anticipated film.

The new movie, made with computer-generated imagery, follows the plot of the Oscar winning 1994 animation about lion cub Simba, who flees his kingdom after his villainous uncle Scar connives to take his father Mufasa’s place as king.

It boasts a voice cast that includes music star Beyonce and actors Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the 1994 version.

Counting down 100 days until the film’s July release, the trailer begins with Scar, surrounded by hyenas, telling Simba: “Life’s not fair, is it, my little friend? While some are born to feast, others spend their lives in the dark, begging for scraps.”

Under 2 minutes long, it shows off the Pride Rock setting, with glimpses of Simba’s childhood friend and love interest Nala as well as new pals Timon and Pumbaa. As well as Scar, Mufasa’s voice is also heard in the trailer.

“The Lion King” was an instant hit with audiences around the world when it was released, and a hugely successful musical theater version still runs on New York’s Broadway and in London.

The new trailer, which follows a first look of the film in November, garnered nearly 1.5 million views in the first two hours after it was posted on Disney’s Twitter feed.

The film is the latest Disney remake to hit screens this year. It is directed by Jon Favreau, who was behind the 2016 remake of “The Jungle Book”.

(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams)

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FILE PHOTO: Oprah Winfrey talks on stage during a taping of her TV show in the Manhattan borough of New York City
FILE PHOTO: Oprah Winfrey talks on stage during a taping of her TV show in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

April 10, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Oprah Winfrey and Britain’s Prince Harry have teamed up to produce an Apple documentary next year aimed at raising awareness of mental health.

Harry, who revealed he had come very close to a breakdown after the death of his mother Princess Diana when he was 12, has made mental health campaigning one of his priorities.

Harry’s frank disclosures about his own torment helped to break down some of the current British taboos over discussion of mental health issues in public.

He and Winfrey, one of the world’s most influential media moguls, have been working on the project for a few months.

“I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self,” Harry said in a statement.

“Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better.”

Winfrey joined Apple on stage in March when it launched streaming television services and announced a global book club and two documentaries.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Stephen Addison)

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Visitors walk on the
Visitors walk on the “Hellboy 2” movie set at the Korda Studios in Etyek, Hungary April 5, 2019. Picture taken April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

April 10, 2019

By Michael Kahn

PRAGUE (Reuters) – It’s the kind of maneuvering that might make the Game of Thrones’ shrewdest operator Tyrion Lannister feel right at home.

As streaming giants Amazon, Netflix and Hulu prepare to splash out on their next fantasy blockbusters and dystopian dramas, Central European countries are slugging it out to get a grab a slice of their bumper production budgets.

Experienced crews, lower labor costs and generous production incentives have long attracted international filmmakers to the Czech Republic and Hungary but other countries in the region are now getting into the game.

The Czechs and Hungarians are both considering raising their incentives after Romania approved a production rebate of up to 45 percent in 2018 and Poland introduced a 30 percent cash rebate in February to keep pace with its neighbors.

A new European Union directive due to come in this year is also expected to spur investment as it will require video-on-demand platforms selling to European audiences to ensure at least 30 percent of their catalogs are European works.

“This is a new era,” said Agnes Havas, chief executive of the Hungarian Film Fund told Reuters, noting that the Netflix series “The Crown” and Amazon Prime Video’s “Hanna” were shot in Hungary.

“What we see is we started at 30 percent (incentives) and now we are looking at the other countries in Europe and we will evaluate the situation and see whether we should potentially think about raising it again in the future.”

BITG media analyst Rich Greenfield estimates Amazon will spend $5 billion to $6 billion in 2019 on content with Netflix laying out about $15 billion – and a significant portion of the Netflix budget will flow overseas.

“We are aware there is a shift in global production and you can’t ignore the big streaming companies,” Anna Dziedzic of the Film Commission Poland told Reuters. In 2018 Netflix filmed “1983” in the country, the company’s first original Polish Netflix series.

“They are one of the biggest players now. You have to adjust to the changing environment and you have to have them in mind,” Dziedzic told Reuters.

Amazon and Netflix declined to comment on their plans in the region.


A landscape dotted with castles and rolling countryside makes central Europe a versatile setting for increasingly popular historical and fantasy shows looking to cash in on the success of series such as “Game of Thrones”.

“The types of shows being shot have dramatically changed,” said David Minkowski, head of production at Stillking Films, which co-produced Amazon’s neo-noir fantasy “Carnival Row” and Hulu’s historical series “Das Boot”, in the Czech Republic.

“Call it the Game of Thrones effect. A lot of it is fantasy or historical that naturally gravitates to this part of the world,” he told Reuters, adding that the company was now working on fantasy drama “The Witcher” for Netflix. “The typical production centers are bursting at the seams.”

Dziedzic at the Film Commission Poland said she has also received requests from international companies wanting to use post-Soviet locations and brutalist Communist architecture for science fiction series.

This has helped push international investment in regional production to record highs, leaving studios booked a year in advance and crews forced to turn away work, industry professionals say.

“There is now an ever increased premium on local crew relationships and good access to infrastructure and studios which need to be planned up to 12 months in advance of production,” added Stillking’s Managing Director Matthew Stillking.

“It’s a boom time … likely to last several years as the sector becomes more competitive with a perfect storm of increased consumer viewing demand and more platforms needing content to compete for customers.”


Foreign investment in the Czech film industry leapt nearly 1.2 billion crowns to a record 4.8 billion ($210 million) on 1,072 shooting days for 38 foreign series and films in 2018, according to the Czech Film Commission.

Investment is expected to remain at that level or higher this year, though Czech plans to increase cash rebates on offer for film makers from 20 percent now could be a game changer.

“It will rocket once the incentives are raised,” Pavlina Zipkova, head of the Czech Film Commission, told Reuters. “The government has not increased it yet but we strongly believe it will happen later this year.”

In Hungary, spending on a total of 333 productions last year amounted to 110 billion forints (385 million), with 84 percent of the investment coming from international productions including Hollywood blockbusters “Terminator: Dark Fate” and “Gemini Man.”

This was up from 108 billion in 2017, when “Red Sparrow” and “Colette” were made in Hungary but Havas at Hungary’s Film Fund expects the new EU rules to accelerate the streaming-fueled production boom.

The rise of streaming services has also shifted the types of productions in the region. Hungary attracts more blockbuster films these days while episodic series tend to gravitate towards the Czech Republic, said Tomas Krejci, founder of Milk and Honey Pictures and Prague Studios.

This helped Prague Studio’s turnover jump more than 50 percent in 2018 – and Krejci predicts demand will remain strong as top notch crews shooting historical shows are more than a third cheaper than in rival countries such as Spain.

“The demand for historical shows is getting stronger,” Krejci said whose company has produced “Haunted” for Netflix and Amazon’s “Patriot” and the second season of “Lore.”

“Here it’s not just the phenomenal historic architecture but also the vast amount of props, costumes and local talent that make it cheaper and easier to make these kinds of shows.”

($1 = 22.8160 Czech crowns)

($1 = 285.6800 forints)

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; editing by David Clarke)

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FILE PHOTO: Minneapolis Division of the FBI image of a pair of ruby slippers featured in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz
FILE PHOTO: A pair of ruby slippers featured in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 2005, is shown after it was recovered in a sting operation conducted in Minneapolis earlier this summer in this FBI Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., image released on September 4, 2018. Courtesy FBI/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

April 10, 2019

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When a 17th century Dutch painting looted by the Nazis turned up for sale in New York in late 2017, the FBI’s Art Crime Team moved in, verified its identity and helped win a court order to return the work to its rightful owners.

It was the latest of many high-profile cases for the 22-person Federal Bureau of Investigation division dedicated to solving a wide array of art-related crimes at an agency that is better known for chasing bank robbers, spies and other criminal rogues.

Solomon Koninck’s 17th-century painting “A Scholar Sharpening His Quill,” was one of many treasures belonging to the family of art collector Adolphe Schloss that were seized by the Nazi-supporting Vichy government in France 75 years ago. The portrait, which once adorned Adolph Hitler’s Munich offices, disappeared at the end of World War Two.

It resurfaced at Christie’s auction house, which tipped off the FBI unit last year that a Chilean art dealer was trying to sell it.

“The evidence was really overwhelming,” FBI Special Agent Chris McKeogh said, days after the work’s formal repatriation to the Schloss heirs in early April. “There was really no question that this was the painting in question.”

In its early days, recalled Robert Wittman, the Art Crime Team’s founding chief, being art cops was not exactly “a path to directorship.”

But after 14 years, the team is getting more respect from fellow agents after several headline-grabbing recoveries in the United States of art works and other cultural property, Supervisory Special Agent Tim Carpenter said.

“People just think what we’re doing is cool,” said Carpenter, who now runs the unit from the FBI’s Washington headquarters.

“I think we’ve changed a lot of perceptions, even within the organization,” he said. “So now my phone rings off the hook weekly for folks wanting to be on the team.”

Since it was founded in 2005, the team has recovered nearly 15,000 objects worth nearly $800 million and secured more than 90 convictions.


Last year alone, its recoveries included a painting by Marc Chagall that had been taken from the Manhattan home of an elderly couple nearly 30 years earlier, a Nazi-looted work by artist Auguste Renoir and a pair of “ruby slippers” worth millions worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

It is not the money, Carpenter stressed, but rather the “intrinsic value” of stolen art and cultural property – anything from baseball cards to a $5 million Stradivarius – that determines whether the FBI will pursue it.

The red sequined shoes stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota 13 years ago were a prime example.

“People responded to that case,” he said. “They said this is really important; this is a piece of Americana.”

Agents selected for the team must understand why art and culture matter to humanity, Carpenter said.

Agent McKeogh pinpointed his art awakening to a college backpacking trip in Paris. On an obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, he happened to pass Pierre-Narcisse Guerin’s 18th-century oil painting “The Return of Marcus Sextus.”

“I found a painting that spoke to me and spent about a half-hour sitting in front it,” said McKeogh, who is based in New York. “And from there, I was really hooked.”


The United States was lagging far behind European countries in art crime-fighting resources when Wittman helped launch the team in 2005, partly to track down antiquities that were looted from the Baghdad Museum after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Now a private consultant, Wittman was the bureau’s original art sleuth. He said art thieves were always most vulnerable when they tried to unload their high-profile, ill-gotten gains.

“The real art in art heists is not the stealing, it’s the selling,” said Wittman, who had recovered more than $300 million in stolen art when he retired in 2008 after 20 years.

While there are no reliable statistics on art crime, Carpenter said he thinks technology is making things worse because stolen works and forgeries can be sold anonymously on online marketplaces.

If the Art Crime Team’s most vexing case is a daring 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in which thieves made off with 13 pieces by Dutch masters Rembrandt and Vermeer and other artists worth half a billion dollars.

Despite a $10 million reward, none of them has been recovered, and the theft, considered to be among the biggest in art history, looms as the team’s most glaring unsolved case.

“There’s not a single person on the Art Crime Team that doesn’t dream of the day that we can recover those pieces,” said Carpenter.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

April 10, 2019

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – While superheroes, monsters and aliens battle on the big screen, a real-life fight is raging behind the scenes that will determine what moviegoers will see at their local cinemas.

The off-screen skirmish centers around the theatrical “window,” the time a movie plays exclusively in U.S. theaters before it can be released on DVD or digital. That period averages 90 days, but upheaval across the media business is fueling debate on whether that should shrink.

At stake is the future of movie theaters and small-screen entertainment as new technology giants upend decades of Hollywood tradition.

Netflix Inc has streamed original movies at the same time, or just a few weeks after, their debut in cinemas. Competitor Amazon Studios has said it would like some of its films to play for only two to eight weeks in theaters before hitting the Amazon Prime Video streaming service.

Many theater owners object, citing potential damage to their business. The group that awards the Oscars is weighing whether to respond, and A-list celebrities are taking sides.

Adam Aron, chief executive of AMC Entertainment Holdings, the world’s largest theater operator, said his company would “consider any and all alternatives” but any changes to the current industry standard “would have to be beneficial to us or neutral to us.”

Even the king of the multiplex – Walt Disney Co – is getting into streaming, and is set to unveil details on Thursday of its strategy. That has stoked concern that it, too, might want movies in living rooms sooner.

Disney executives insist they remain rock-solid behind existing windows for big event films. Disney’s franchise fare such as “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” generated a total $7.3 billion at global box offices in 2018.

At a recent CinemaCon convention for theater owners in Las Vegas, Disney and other studios stressed the special experience of watching a film in a darkened theater.

“A lot more people have had their first kiss in a movie theater than their parents’ living room,” said Toby Emmerich, a senior executive at Warner Bros., part of AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia, which also plans a streaming push.

Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren was more forthright. “I love Netflix, but fuck Netflix!” she said to cheers and applause. “There’s nothing like sitting in the cinema and the lights go down.”

Netflix is in talks to buy the Egyptian Theatre, a historic movie house in the heart of Hollywood, a source with knowledge of the matter said. Netflix would host premieres and other industry events at the theater, which opened in 1922, the source said.

Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke, meanwhile, declared the company “committed to the theatrical experience.” In June, it is slated to release comedy “Late Night” in theaters, with a traditional window.

Shorter windows would keep some customers at home, said Greg Marcus, chief executive of The Marcus Corporation, owner of the fourth-largest U.S. theater chain.

“If you damage the business and take away 10 percent of our customers, we won’t be able to reinvest in the theatrical experience,” Marcus said. “That would ultimately hurt content providers.”

Others said consumers are happy with the current system. Ticket sales in 2018 reached a record $41 billion globally and $12 billion in the United States and Canada, even as Netflix released about 90 movies for streaming.

“We’re not talking about something that’s broken,” Vue International cinemas CEO Tim Richards said in an interview.


“Windowing” is expected to be on the agenda this month at a meeting about rules governing the Academy Awards.

Some members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the group that awards the Oscars, have been debating whether films must play in theaters for a specific length of time to be eligible.

Director Steven Spielberg told Britain’s ITV News last year that movies seen primarily via streaming should compete for Emmys, not Oscars. A representative declined to comment on whether the director will urge the Academy to address the issue.

In February, Netflix won three Oscars for “Roma,” which streamed three weeks after a limited theatrical debut. Netflix tweeted that it “loved cinema” but also supported access for people who cannot afford, or do not live close to, theaters.

The Justice Department has waded in, warning the Academy that some eligibility limits could be anti-competitive.

An Academy spokesperson said any changes would be weighed at the April 23 meeting.

The issue could flare up later this year when Netflix releases “The Irishman,” a mob drama directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

Filmmakers hope “The Irishman” will play broadly in theaters, De Niro said in an interview, though they realize Netflix’s chief audience is its streaming customers.

“They’re not going to cut their noses to spite their face,” De Niro said. “We get it. This kind of movie has to be presented that way.”

But he added: “We’re working it out so we can have as much theatrical as possible.”

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Las Vegas and Alicia Powell in New York; Editing by Kenneth Li and Rosalba O’Brien)

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FILE PHOTO: A man uses his mobile phone to take photographs of a poster of the upcoming film
FILE PHOTO: A man uses his mobile phone to take photographs of a poster of the upcoming film “PM Narendra Modi” during the launch of its poster in Mumbai, India, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File photo

April 10, 2019

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Nivedita Bhattacharjee

MUMBAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Early this year, a dozen of Bollywood’s biggest names took a private jet from India’s film capital of Mumbai to New Delhi for a private audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Subsequently, actor Ranveer Singh, who has nearly 22 million followers on Instagram, posted a smiling picture of himself hugging Modi, with a caption expressing his “joy” at the encounter, drawing more than 3 million likes.

Bollywood is playing a lead role in Modi’s campaign for a second term, endorsing him on-screen and off, in both subtle and obvious ways, in a marked shift from the more transactional relationship Indian film stars previously had with politicians.

Modi asked filmmakers and stars to “talk about patriotism, and Indian culture and values,” in their films, said film producer Mahaveer Jain, who organized the Jan. 10 meeting.

“He recognizes the soft power of Bollywood, and the impact it can have.”

As people younger than 35 form nearly two-thirds of India’s population of about 1.3 billion, with more than 15 million voting for the first time in general elections that begin on Thursday, approval from the leading stars could be key.

Modi swept to victory in 2014, but this time, rural distress and concern about a lack of jobs threaten to make it tougher for his party to triumph in elections spread over a month, with counting set for May 23.

In recent months, Modi has met privately at least four times with several of Bollywood’s biggest personalities, most of whom have posted selfies with him on social media, accompanied by glowing captions.

“Together we would love to inspire and ignite positive changes toward a transformative India,” read a caption on director Karan Johar’s Instagram post of a star-studded group selfie with Modi that won more than 1 million likes. He thanked the government for cutting taxes on movie tickets.

“There is perhaps no politician in the history of Indian politics who has been able to create a celebrity outreach program like Narendra Modi,” said Joyojeet Pal, a University of Michigan professor who has analyzed Modi’s social media feed since 2009.

A BJP spokesman did not respond to Reuters’ repeated requests for comment.

(For video, click on https://reut.tv/2Gc7ooq)

Bollywood’s move to largely embrace Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party contrasts with the United States, where Hollywood has typically taken up liberal-left causes and backed the Democrats, more lately lampooning President Donald Trump and the right-wing Republican Party.


Beyond social media, Bollywood has released three movies with lead actors in prime ministerial roles this year.

One, “Uri – The Surgical Strike” proved the year’s biggest hit, pulling in a gross of more than $35 million at the Indian box office.

In speeches, Modi and his ministers have repeatedly evoked the film, which indirectly lauds the prime minister and his national security adviser for planning a 2016 attack that India says hit terrorist camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

But it has no political leanings, says director Aditya Dhar. “My film is a dedication to the Indian Army,” Dhar told Reuters in January https://in.reuters.com/article/interview-aditya-dhar-uri/qa-aditya-dhar-on-uri-the-surgical-strike-idINKCN1P50J3. “It is about the sacrifices they make for their countrymen.”

The film released the same weekend as “The Accidental Prime Minister”, based on an unauthorized biography of Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh.

That film, which did not succeed at the box office, projected open contempt for Singh, painting him as ineffective and forced to bow to the whims of the Gandhi family, which heads India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress.

“You can clearly say some of these films are propaganda films,” said influential film critic Rajeev Masand. “There is no confusion on the agenda there.”

A biopic titled “PM Narendra Modi” is set for release on Thursday, when the first votes are to be cast in the seven-phase election, and it follows a 10-episode web series on Modi’s life.


Not everyone is jumping on the Modi bandwagon.

More than 800 theater artists, actors and film makers urged voters not to back Modi last week, but barring a few, most were independent and documentary film makers lacking the reach of Bollywood’s A-listers.

“The man portrayed as the savior of the nation five years ago has destroyed the livelihoods of millions through his policies,” they said on the website Artists Unite.

“We appeal to our fellow citizens to vote for love and compassion, for equality and social justice, and to defeat the forces of darkness and barbarism.”

The main opposition Congress party has also sought to woo Bollywood and a separate source said filmmakers were invited to meet its leader, Rahul Gandhi.

The agenda for that meeting is unknown and Gandhi’s office did not respond to calls seeking comment.

“My Name is RaGa,” a less publicized movie about Gandhi, is also set for release this month.

Traditionally, Bollywood stars functioned as crowd-pullers at the odd election rally, often for remuneration. Though many later took the plunge into politics, no political party has deployed them as subliminal brand ambassadors before.

“This is alarming because Indian cinema is a huge influencer,” said Sandeep Chatterjee, professor of direction and screenplay at the Film and Television Institute of India.

“One can say people have a right to decide what they watch, but you cannot discount the influence Indian cinema has on people at large, especially young people.”

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Nivedita Bhattacharjee; Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

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