High hopes in Iran as nuclear talks head into final round

(Photo: European External Action Service/flickr/cc)

(Photo: European External Action Service/flickr/cc)

by Jasmin Ramsey, IPS News

A final deal on Iran’s nuclear program wouldn’t only make non-proliferation history. It would also be the beginning of a better life for the Iranian people—or at least that’s what they’re hoping.

Iranians, who are keeping a close eye on the talks which will resume Saturday in Vienna amidst the looming June 30 deadline, believe that significant economic improvements would result from a final accord in the near term, according to a major new poll and study released here this week.

Majorities of the Iranian public say they expect to see better access to foreign medicines and medical equipment, significantly more foreign investment, and tangible improvements in living standards within a year of the deal being signed, according to the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research and Iran Poll, an independent, Toronto-based polling group working with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM).

Asked how long they believed it would take for changes resulting from a deal to materialize, 61 percent of respondents said they would see Iranians gaining greater access to foreign-made medicines and medical equipment in a year or less while a similar number—62 percent—thought they would see “a lot more foreign companies making investments in Iran” in a year or less.

A slightly lesser 55 percent thought they would see “a tangible improvement in people’s standard of living” within a year.

The poll—based on telephone interviews with over 1,000 respondents between May 12 and May 28—found strong support for a nuclear deal, but that support appears to be contingent on the belief that the U.S. would lift all sanctions as part of the deal, not just those related to Iran’s nuclear activities, and that economic relief would come relatively quickly.

The timeframe for and extent of sanctions removal remains, however, a major obstacle in the negotiations, the exact details of which are being kept private while talks are in progress.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—who holds the final say on all matters related to the state—reportedly demanded in a major speech Tuesday that all U.S. sanctions be lifted as of the signing of a deal, a demand that could further complicate the negotiations.

“While there is majority support for continuing to pursue a deal,” said Ebrahim Mohseni, a senior analyst at the University of Tehran’s Center and a CISSM research associate, “it is sustained in part by expectations that besides the U.N. and the E.U., the U.S. would also relinquish all its sanctions, that the positive effects of the deal would be felt in tangible ways fairly quickly, and that Iran would continue to develop its civilian nuclear program.”

He added that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might have “difficulty selling a deal that would significantly deviate from these expectations.”

Tempered expectations

A 34-page study conducted by the New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) also found that civil society, which continues to support the negotiations even while criticizing the government’s domestic policies, is hopeful for an agreement that will end years of sanctions and isolation.

Of the 28 prominent civil society members interviewed by ICHRI between May 13-June 2, 71 percent of respondents expect economic benefits from an accord, citing increased investment and oil revenues, and gains to employment, manufacturing, and growth.

However, one-fifth of those expecting economic gains believe these benefits could be lost to ordinary Iranians due to governmental mismanagement.

In fact, a significant number of the civil society leaders were skeptical of the Rouhani government’s ability to deliver tangible results from a final deal to the general public.

Thirty-six percent of the interviewees expected no improvement in political or cultural freedoms, citing either Rouhani’s lack of authority or lack of willingness, while 25 percent of all respondents said they expected economic benefits to reach only the wealthy and politically influential.

“Mr. Rouhani is not in control,” Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker and political activist told ICHRI. “Whatever he wants to implement, he would first have to seek permission from the Supreme Leader’s office.”

“The expectations we have of Mr.Rouhani do not match his capabilities,” he added.

However, 61 percent of the respondents still believe a deal would grant the Rouhani administration the political leverage required to implement political and cultural reforms.

“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani’s promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalization,” Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar at the University of Hawaii, told IPS.

“He will still face still resistance and competition but there is no doubt he’ll be strengthened,” she said.

While the ICHRI’s civil society respondents expressed a greater degree of skepticism and nuance than the general population surveyed by the CISSM, a substantial majority in both polls argued that sanctions were significantly hurting ordinary Iranians, an effect that would only increase if no deal is reached.

“[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities,” Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, a civil activist and wife of a political prisoner, told ICHRI.

“The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups.”

Thousands displaced as battles rage in Syria's Hasakah

Many killed in clashes between Syrian government forces, opposition forces and ISIL fighters in northeastern province.

At least 1.7 million Syrian refugees are hosted by Turkey, the highest figure recorded for Syrian refugees in the region [AFP]

At least 1.7 million Syrian refugees are hosted by Turkey, the highest figure recorded for Syrian refugees in the region [AFP]

by Al Jazeera

Dozens of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Syrian government forces have been killed in ongoing battles in Hasakah province, a monitoring group and activists said.

The fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people, the UN said.

At least nine ISIL fighters and 12 government soldiers were killed during clashes on Monday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

On the eastern side of Hasakah city, Kurdish People’s units (YPG) foiled an ISIL suicide car bomb in the neighbourhood of Ghweran and captured three villages from ISIL fighters, activists and the Observatory told Al Jazeera.

ISIL launched its offensive on Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah, which borders Turkey, on June 25.

Since then, at least 71 government soldiers and 48 ISIL fighters have been killed.

The Observatory said more than 30 civilians have been killed in the clashes, with an increase in the death toll expected.

ISIL moved closer to Hasakah city last month, but the city remains under opposition and YPG control.

Government air strikes have targeted ISIL fighters in several neighbourhoods in and around Hasakah since Thursday.

About 2,000 people are trapped in the neighbourhoods of al-Nashwa and al-Sharia due to the fighting and government air strikes, the UN reported over the weekend.

The UN also said at least 120,000 have been displaced due to the fighting within Hasakah city and its surrounding villages.

The population of Hasakah province in 2011 was 1.5 million – with 300,000 living in Hasakah city, which has a mixed Arab, Kurdish, and Christian population.

The UN also said they expect more people will try to flee in the next few days.

ISIL anniversary

Sunday marked one year since ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared himself a caliph of what he called the “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria.

ISIL now controls almost 50 percent of Syrian territory, declaring eight “Islamic states” inside the country.

They currently have presence in nine out 14 Syrian provinces and control many significant oil and gas fields.

Since Baghdadi’s statement a year ago, the Observatory said it has documented 3,027 executions carried out by ISIL, including those of 1,787 civilians, 74 of them children.

More than half of those executed were civilians and more than half of the executed civilians were members of the Sunni Shaitat tribe, which revolted against ISIL south of Deir Ezzor city in August 2014.

The overall toll includes the mass killings that took place in the surprise ISIL attack on Kobane last week after being forced out in January. Activists told Al Jazeera almost 300 people were killed in the attack.

The Observatory also reported that at least 8,000 ISIL fighters have been killed in clashes with Syrian rebels and YPG Kurdish forces, and in US-led air strikes that started in September 2014.

Greek banks remain shut amid debt crisis negotiations

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expected to make new proposals in bid to end financial crisis.

Photo: EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI

Photo: EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI

by Al Jazeera

The president of the European Commission is expected to make new proposals to try to avoid a Greek default, the EU commissioner of economic affairs has said, adding that there was still room to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Jean-Claude Juncker “will indicate the route to follow”, Pierre Moscovici told French radio on Monday, adding there was still “room for negotiation” between Athens and its international creditors.

“I hope everyone will commit themselves to a way of compromise.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had earlier announced the temporary closure of banks, after the European Central Bank (ECB) said it would not increase additional emergency funding to the country.

In addition, Greece announced on Monday that the country’s stock market will remain closed until July 7.

In a television address on Sunday, Tsipras said that the government will also start imposing capital controls ahead of a looming deadline on Tuesday.

The country needs to make a $1.8bn payment to the International Monetary Fund by Tuesday or risk defaulting on its obligations.

The emergency measures were agreed at a cabinet meeting after a gathering of Greece’s systemic stability council, called after eurozone finance ministers refused to extend its bailout beyond Tuesday.

Greek government officials have confirmed that banks will remain closed until July 6 – a day after the planned referendum on bailout deal offered by international creditors.

However, officials said that ATMs will reopen on Monday afternoon, with daily withdrawal limit set at 60 euros ($66).

The leftist government, in a statement, also clarified that tourists staying in Greece and anyone with a credit card issued in a foreign country will not be affected by measures to limit bank withdrawals.

Japan stocks plunged more than two percent on Monday, with investor sentiment hit by fears of a Greek default. The Nikkei went down more than 500 points at one point during early trading.

The latest development came as the Greek parliament decided to back Tsipras’ call for a referendum on the country’s bailout deal with international creditors.

The referendum planned for July 5 was approved by at least 179 deputies out of a total of 300 politicians.

Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party and allied politicians voted in favour of the referendum that has angered its creditors who earlier rejected the debt-ridden country’s request for a bailout extension.

BBMP polls must be conducted after trifurcation process: Siddaramaiah

BBMP-BUILDING

Bengaluru: “The government is planning to move the Supreme Court on holding the BBMP elections”, confirmed Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Sunday June 28.

Addressing an event at the Maratha Bhavan the CM said, “We are mulling over approaching the Supreme Court over the High Court’s directive to hold the BBMP elections before August 5. I feel that the elections should be held after the trifurcation process of the local body is complete”, he added.

On May 5, the High Court had said that the BBMP elections should be held within three months (by August 5). Last week, the State Election Commission announced that the elections will be held on July 28, a week before the last date.

The model code of conduct is already in force and will remain till August 1.

(Agencies)

Bribery allegations: BCCI gives 'clean chit' to three players

BCCI

New Delhi: The BCCI today gave a clean chit to three international cricketers, who were accused of accepting bribes from a Mumbai-based businessman by ousted IPL commissioner Lalit Modi.

BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur said “there is nothing in it” when asked about the ICC acknowledging a letter from Modi in June 2013, claiming that two cricketers from India and a West Indian were paid in cash and kind to the tune of Rs 20 crore each.

“Lalit Modi had written a letter to ICC, so they informed BCCI about the letter. The three players are international players and fall under the international jurisdiction. There is no information on these players from ICC so far, so it is in a way a clean chit for them to play,” said Thakur here today.

“The ICC has sent a press release, they had informed BCCI about the three players. When somebody plays international cricket, the ICC is responsible. Only the ICC can answer as per their investigations. It falls under ICC’s purview. They have said that they are enquiring, so only they can answer on this. If there was anything, they could have reported back to us,” he said further on the controversial issue.

The acknowledgement of Modi’s letter came only yesterday from the ICC. “The ICC confirms that Mr Modi’s confidential e-mail, which was received in June 2013, and which has recently been published on Twitter, was provided to the ACSU at that time. The ACSU handled that information in accordance with its standard operating procedures, which included sharing it with the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit,” the ICC had said.

On IPL, Thakur was asked about the identity of the player who was approached for spot-fixing ahead of the 2015 edition.

“We don’t disclose the name of the players. If a player has been approached, we report it to the anti-corruption unit. We have to look at the detailed report. Once the final report comes in then we will take action. As of now, enquiry is still not over,” Thakur added.

(PTI)

Vyapam scam: Deaths of 25 accused 'natural', says Minister Babulal Gaur

Babulal Gaur

Bhopal: Amid fresh Opposition demands for a CBI probe into the high-profile MPPEB scam in the wake of deaths of 25 accused and witnesses, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Babulal Gaur today termed them as “natural” deaths and ruled out probe by the central agency into the scandal.

“All deaths are natural deaths,” Gaur said when asked about the deaths of so many people in the scam so far.

“The accused fell sick and died,” he said reiterating that all these are “natural” deaths. Two more accused in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) scam, also known as Vyapam scam, died in Gwalior and Indore yesterday, adding another murky dimension to the massive scandal in which 25 accused and witnesses have died so far.

Referring to the Congress’ demand of handing over the probe to CBI, Gaur said that even Supreme Court had rejected the demand and added that the inquiry into the scam is presently going on under the strict monitoring of Madhya Pradesh High Court.

“There is no need for a CBI probe,” he said.

The death of 40-year-old Dr Rajendra Arya at Birla Hospital in Gwalior yesterday was reported after his condition suddenly deteriorated, while that of Narendra Singh Tomar (29) in Indore jail was under mysterious circumstances.

Arya, who reportedly held an MBBS degree, had allegedly helped two students clear Pre-Medical Tests (PMTs) conducted by MPPEB in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Tomar, who was posted as Assistant Veterinary Officer at Raisen before being embroiled in the MPPEB scam, was an accused in the Pre-Medical Test conducted by MPPEB in 2009. Tomar was said to have arranged for impostors who had written the papers in place of genuine aspirants.

Three days back, the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the scandal had submitted to the MP High Court that 23 deceased in the MPPEB scam had died unnatural deaths so far. Some reports have claimed 40 such deaths.

The most high-profile death was that of Shailesh Yadav, son of Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav. Shailesh, 50, was found dead at his father’s residence in Mall Avenue area of Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow on March 25 this year.

Ram Naresh Yadav, also a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was himself made an accused in the MPPEB scam before getting relief from the court.

Vyapam scam is a massive admission and recruitment scandal involving politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen. Several politicians, including former education minister Laxmikant Sharma, a host of officials and scores of aspirants have been arrested in the case.

Accusing the chief minister of trying to cover up, Congress leader Digvijay Singh said the party has lost faith in the SIT appointed by the court.

“More than 41 people who were accused have died mysteriously. But unfortunately the Chief minister is trying to cover up and we are fighting the battle in court.

“We have lost total faith in the SIT appointed by the honourable High Court. They themselves have conveyed the helplessness to guide the STF investigation. So we have no option but to go to Supreme Court,” he said.

BJP leader Kailash Vijayarga said, “I have got to know that Narendra Tomar has committed suicide. Police is investigating the matter and it is true that it’s an abnormal death but I cannot ascertain the exact number of deaths of the people connected in the Vyapam Scam”.

BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao said a large number of people have been arrested in the scam.

Vyapam Scam is one of the most extensive investigations that have been done in the country so far, he said.

“The Jabalpur HC had examined this matter several times and expressed complete trust in the investigation. The HC has constituted a special investigative team headed by a retired judge of High Court and there is a Special Task Force which is reporting to the SIT. It is one of the most robust investigations to get to the truth. Things like these will be certainly be taken cognisance of by the SIT,” Rao said.

Terming the way the case is being handled as very “saddening”, senior advocate Vivek Tankha said, “I haven’t seen such a scam in the whole world.

“The way in which this is being handled is very saddening. There is no confidence in the investigation and it is not going in the right direction. In a way we are witnessing the biggest cover up story of India. We are soon going to the Supreme Court. We will inform the SC about the two deaths that have taken place,” he said.

(PTI)

Seniors rested for Zimbabwe tour, Rahane to lead

Rahane

New Delhi: India on Monday appointed batsman Ajinkya Rahane as their skipper for the 15-member side to tour Zimbabwe for the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and two Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) and rested as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and seniors like Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) selection committee headed by Sandip Patil met here and decided to rest opening batsmen Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and pacer Umesh Yadav for the tour starting with an ODI on July 10.

The BCCI said that team manager Ravi Shastri has opted out of the tour “due to prior engagement”.

India squad for Zimbabwe tour: Ajinkya Rahane (capt), M. Vijay, Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel, Karn Sharma, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma.

(Agencies)

Holy Cow! Chinese inspectors may allow Indian beef exports

Photo: KOON/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo: KOON/AFP/Getty Images)

New Delhi: Beef may be having rough days under the BJP government, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China last monthmay have cleared the way for export of the holy meat to the world’s biggest market two years after an agreement was signed. Agri-products such as pomegranate, non-basmati rice and okra could also find their way to China as India steps up efforts to reduce the imbalance in bilateral trade.

Beijing will send an inspection team next month to examine meat plants in India so that the facilities can be cleared for exports. Indian bovine meat and meat products have been denied entry into China on grounds of alleged foot-and-mouth disease.”China’s quarantine inspectors are coming to inspect bovine meat facilities in July, which is two years after the memorandum of understanding was signed. We are hopeful that it will clear the way for our agri exports,” said a government official. “This will help address the issue of trade deficit to some extent, which, if not addressed, could reach unsustainable levels.”

India’s trade deficit with China widened to $48 billion in 2014-15 from $36 billion the previous year.

Taking no chances with the bilateral process, India also questioned China’s decision to continue curbs on Indian buffalo meat imports at an agriculture committee meeting of the World Trade Organization in April. China’s demand for Indian buffalo meat is estimated at about $1.5 billion a year.

India became the world’s top beef exporter last year. Bovine meat overtook basmati rice as the country’s single largest agri export item in 2014-15, posting a 10% growth to $4.79 billion.

China is among the top beef consumers and depends on imports to meet domestic demand. India has also asked China to approve the export clearance process for agri items such as pomegranate, okra, non-basmati rice and cucumber. China recently allowed Indian mangoes, basmati rice, rape seed and oil cakes.

“Chinese are mainly non-basmati rice consumers, with their annual imports ranging between $36-40 billion. So we are asking them to certify our clearance procedures for non-basmati rice. They have said that they will look into it,” said the official.

India wants China to allow 17 farm products that it has restricted citing sanitary and phyto sanitary conditions, also considered non-tariff barriers. “Since mango they have already cleared, we are pushing for pomegranate, okra, grapes and cucumbers in the next lot,” said the official.

Indian fruit and vegetables and non-basmati rice have an export potential worth $1-2 billion annually, according to estimates. India has asked China to expedite export clearance for tobacco, bitter gourd, papaya, guava, brinjal, custard apple, cabbage, capsicum and beans, among others.

India’s exports to China fell almost 20% to $12 billion in 2014-15, while imports rose to $60 billion. According to a foreign trade policy statement issued by India’s department of commerce in April, the trade deficit with China could widen to $60 billion in the next two years if the two countries don’t address market access constraints and non-tariff barriers imposed on Indian goods. India has proposed that exports from packaging units with certification from Indian quarantine authorities be recognised by the Chinese authorities.

India has been strongly pushing for elimination of non-tariff barriers by China in various sectors including agriculture, IT, pharma and auto components.

(Agencies)

#SelfieWithDaughter: Careful, Modi has record of stalking, says activist

#SelfieWithDaughter

New Delhi: Activist and All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) secretary Kavita Krishnan has sparked a row on Twitter after she accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of having a record of stalking daughters.

During his radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, on Sunday Modi had appealed people to share a selfie with their daughters and tag it as #SelfieWithDaughter to celebrate girl child.

Following PM Modi’s appeal, Kavita Krishnan, posted on her Twitter, “Careful before sharing #SelfieWithDaughter with #LameDuckPM. He has a record of stalking daughters.” leaving Modi supporters red faced.

It may be recalled here that in 2013, two investigative news portals had jointly released audiotapes of conversations between Amit Shah and IPS officer G L Singhal, accusing Narendra Modi’s aide of misusing the official machinery to order surveillance of a young woman at the behest of “saheb” in 2009.

Named “The Stalkers,” a short film of around 50 minutes was played in a press conference held at the Press Club. The story was an outcome of efforts put in by Cobrapost’s Anirudh Bahal and Gulail.com’s Ashish Khetan and Raja Chowdhury.

(Agencies)

Foreign Films Worldwide Round Up

Love-Live-Movie

GLOBALIZATION FIRE UP FEST MARKET

Annecy attendance has The Big Mo. And Hollywood and US animation at large is driving that surge as US industry reaches out to the world for talent & markets. 5 days out from 15th Jun launch of 2015 fest edihtion, France’s Annecy Animation Film Festival & Market were on track for an overall 10% – 15% accreditation boost, a near dramatic boost. US fest / market participants were up a remarkable 60%, Canada’s by 40%. Including the Festival’s International Animation Film Market (MIFA), registrations – industry professionals & accredited film school students, look set to come in around 8,000 vs. 7,100 in 2014, reported Patrick Eveno, CEO of Citia, the Annecy Fest’s organizer. At MIFA, market registrations were over 10% up year -on – year. MIFA began its 30th edition on 17th Jun, 2015 with more participants than it finished last year’s, MIFA head Mickael Marin confirmation. Put that down to globalization, often driven by a digital revolution.

BRUCE PITCHES ‘BADLANDS’

Bruce Tuchman, president of AMC Global & Sundance Channel Global, is pitching upcoming series ‘Into The Badlands’ as a role model for the company’s future content investments. “I’m proud to say I don’t know any broadcaster in US which has put in so much investment and put so much on the line into what is essentially a Chinese – inspired story and is now bringing that to a huge audience in US.” said Tuchman on at the China and the World conference on the fringes of the Shanghai Television Festival. Starring Hong Kong’s Daniel Wu, the 6 part series that debuts in Nov, 2015 is the story of a well – trained warrior who embarks on a journey across a dangerous territory to find enlightenment. Accompanying him on his journey is a young boy named M. K. (Aramis Knight). Tuchman said that the series is inspired by Chinese fantastical tale “Journey To The West” and is AMC’s “costliest investment till this date.” “It is a genre – bending show. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic US.

3 MOVIES JOIN THE FESTIVAL LINEUP

Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin’s ‘Minions’, Chris Columbus’ ‘Pixels’ & ‘Terminator Genisys’, which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger & Emilia Clarke, are among the films selected to play at Croatia’s Pula Film Festival. The international program competition includes George Ovashvili’s ‘Corn Island’, which won at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival; Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner ‘Dheepan’, Gabriel Ripstein’s ‘600 Miles’, winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s 1st feature award Alante Kavaite’s ‘The Summer Of Sangaile’, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s world cinema dramatic directing award. 14 films play in the competition section of the international program, and 14 features have been selected for the Croatian films program, which were chosen from the 28 movies submitted. The fest is headed by Gordana Restovic and the festival board includes Hrvoje Puksec, Mike Downey & Tanja Milicic. Downey, who is also deputy chairman of the European Film Academy, said: “The international program reflects a growing interest from the Pula public in quality cinema from all over the world.”

BRITISH COUNCIL LAUNCHES SCRIPT WRITING PROGRAM

The British Council has launched a UK -Nigeria screenwriting partnership program, Script Junction, which will run from Jun to Nov. The aim of the program, which is part of the British Council’s UK – Nigeria season of cultural collaborations, is to help 6 Nigerian & 6 UK screenwriters further develop their skills as well as to foster cultural exchange between the film industries in UK & Nigeria. The other program partners are the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the National Film & Television School, the Africa International Film Festival and the Nigerian Film Institute. The workshops will kick off with a 5 day module at the Edinburgh Film Festival from 19th – 23rd Jun, 2015. A 2nd 5 day module will be held in Nigeria during the Africa International Film Festival in Nov, 2014. At Afriff, all 12 participants will also pitch their projects to an expert industry panel and get feedback on their work. The project aims to “bring together, inspire & motivate a cohort of contemporary screenwriters to explore, develop & create screenplays.

MARY JOINS BFI FILM Fund

The British Film Institute has appointed Mary Burke as senior production & development executive at the BFI Film Fund. Burke joins from Warp Films, where she is an executive producer & board member. The BFI is UK’s largest public investor in film, with more than £30 million ($46.5 million) in funding to invest each year. Burke’s role will be to identify & support a diverse range of British feature film projects, working closely with writers, directors & producers across development & production. Burke’s producer credits include ‘Bunny And The Bull’, the 2009 feature debut from Paul King, who went on to direct ‘Paddington’, UK’s most successful independent film of 2014; ‘Submarine’, the feature BAFTA & BIFA winning debut of Richard Ayoade, which premiered at Toronto Film Festival in 2010; Paul Wright’s ‘For Those In Peril’, which premiered in Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2013; ‘Berberian Sound Studio’, the critically acclaimed 2nd feature from Peter Strickland, which premiered at Edinburgh in 2012; and Chris Waitt’s feature documentary ‘A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures’, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL TO CHINA SHOW

Cirque du Soleil is to open an office in China and launch its 1st permanent show in the country by 2018. The moves follow the acquisition of Cirque earlier this year by financier TPG & Fosun, the Chinese conglomerate that is fast expanding its entertainment & leisure portfolio. The developments were announced at a Fosun event in Shanghai, attended by 20th Century Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos, Cirque’s president and CEO Daniel Lamarre and representatives from South Korean talent agency SM Entertainment, in which Fosun also has an investment. ‘Titanic’ director James Cameron sent a video message. “Toruk – The First Flight,” a stage show derived from Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ will debut in Montreal and tour China in 2017, after several stops in North America. Cirque’s China office opens later this year in Shanghai. The permanent show will be based in Hangzhou and will be a part of a joint development with Hangzhou Industrial. It will be located within a large mixed – use residential, retail & entertainment development that Fosun describe as a hive city.

SHANGHAI FESTIVAL DROPS “TITAN”

The Shanghai International Film Festival, which opened recently, will not go ahead with the scheduled screening of Japanese cartoon ‘Attack On Titan: Guren No Yumiya’. The film appeared recently on a list of animated content which the Chinese government has banned because of “violent and pornographic content.” In a statement circulated only to Chinese media, the festival said that “Titan” had been withdrawn “due to technical reasons.” It said that the film’s 3 screenings will now be filled with other festival titles and that refunds would be available to those who bought tickets in advance. “Titan” (aka “Attack On Titan: Crimson Bow And Arrow”) is directed by Tetsuo Araki, produced by Wit Studio. It is handled internationally by Pony Canyon. The film was one of 8 Japanese movies submitted to the Shanghai festival by the Japan – China Friendship Film Festival Executive Committee. Festivals in China are often able to show films that would not be screened in Chinese commercial theaters, but they are not exempt from censorship.

BRIDGING THE DRAGON PROJECT MARKET

With the start of Shanghai festival, the 1st edition of the Sino – European project lab “Bridging The Dragon” comes to a close. The 4 day residential workshop was held in Songjiang, Shanghai. It saw 10 selected projects, 5 each from China & Europe, pitched, analysed & critiqued by a panel of experts. Of particular importance in the context of attempting to make films that might straddle both European & Chinese markets were elements including story structure, believability of the setting in relationship to the other co – producing side, and feasibility of the co – production. Screenwriting tutors included Shu Huan, Alex Jia, chief creative officer of the Shanghai New Culture Media Group, Luigi Ventriglia, tutor at TorinoFilmLab & Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten. Production experts included Xian Su from DMG Entertainment, Synnove Horsdal from Maipo Film, independent producer Chi Cheung Kwong, Dongrong Zhu from SMG Pictures, Leontine Petit from Lemming Film & Isabelle Glachant from Chinese Shadows.

‘LONG LIVE’ WINS THE WEEKEND

‘Love Live! The School Idol Movie’, a feature animation based on a multimedia project that encompasses a TV anime show, comic, music CDs & live concerts, opened at #1 in Japan for the 13th – 14th Jun, 2015 weekend. Bowing on just 121 screens, with Shochiku distributing, the film about teenaged girls who form an idol group to save their school from closing earned $3.42 million on 252,000 admissions. The film is expected to finish near the $20 million mark. Debuting at #2 was ‘Our Little Sister’, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Cannes competition entry about 4 sisters who form an unusual household in the seaside town of Kamakura. Opening on 323 screens, the film took in $1.86 million from 182,000 admissions. With Gaga & Toho as co – distributors and a full – scale media blitz by Koreeda and his 4 stars, the film looks likely to pass the $10 million milestone. Last week’s top ranking films, led by #1 ‘Tomorrowland’, slipped down 2 places to occupy the #3 to #8 slots. Naomi Kawase’s ‘An’, which also screened at Cannes, held onto its #10 rank, while reaching the JPY200 million ($1.6 million) mark on 94 screens with Elephant House distributing.

NETFLIX PRODUCTION PACT WITH KOGYO

Online video giant Netflix and the Yoshimoto Kogyo talent agency are partnering to make local programs for Netflix’s coming foray into the Japanese market, according to reports. In an unusual arrangement for the Japanese market, Netflix will underwrite a specified portion of the production costs, in exchange for exclusive streaming rights for a set period, according to Japan’s Nikkei newspaper. Meanwhile, Yoshimoto will retain the copyright, allowing it to sell the content elsewhere. The 1st show produced under the arrangement will reportedly feature Sanma Akashiya, a popular MC who has been a fixture on Japanese TV for decades. Netflix is reportedly in talks with Japanese TV production houses, animation studios and other contents producers for similar deals. Netflix is planning to launch a new video – streaming service in Japan this fall. Partly in response, 29 Japanese content providers, including major TV networks & film studios, joined together to form the Japan Contents Group (JCG) consortium at the end of May, 2015. They aim to start their own pay – per – view service before the end of the year.

‘JURRASIC WORLD 2ND LARGEST OPENER OF THE YEAR

Despite the ongoing MERS outbreak, the Korean box office recovered from last week’s slump. According to the KOBIS tracking service, admissions hit 2.19 million between Fri & Sun, represented a week – on – week rise of 147%. Spectators were brought out by ‘Jurassic World’. Released on Thurs, the UPI picture grossed $14.4 million from 1.81 million admissions in 4 days. Opening on 1,290 screens nationwide, “World” accounted for 72% of the weekend total. Its score was the 2nd highest opening of the year, behind ‘Avengers: Age Of Ulton’, which amassed $28.2 million in its 1st week. ‘San Andreas’ slipped to 2nd place, with a drop of 63%. The disaster pic earned $2.1 million between Fri & Sun, boosting its total to $11.2 million after 2 weekends. 3rd place went to Warner’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ with $1.05 million between Fri & Sun, down 49%. It has a cume of $28.3 million after a month in cinemas. The weak performance of Korean titles continued for another week. 5th placed, ‘The Treacherous’ managed $243,000 and after 4 weekends has accumulated $7.82 million. Last week’s opener ‘Perfect Proposal’ took an 87% tumble to 8th place, managing only $66,500 between Fri & Sun, and just $960,000 after 11 days.

LEE MIN – HO CONFIRMED HIS PRESENCE IN ‘BOUNTY HUNTERS

Fast rising Korean actor Lee Min -Ho, who has recently been in high demand in Greater China, has been confirmed to star in action – adventure film ‘Bounty Hunters’. The film is poised to be one of the most expensive in a growing wave of Korean – Chinese co -ventures. Pitched at Cannes by sales agency, it had a tentative budget of $16 million. More recent data put the budget at $31 million. Casting was confirmed this week by Lee’s agency. His recent credits also include ‘Public Enemy Returns’, & TV’s ‘Boys Over Flowers’. The movie is to be directed by Korea’s Shin Terra, action comedy and is written by Edmond Wong. It is the story of 5 bounty hunters who chase fugitives for money in China, Hong Kong, Korea & Thailand. Locations are expected to include Korea’s Jeju Island.
The production involves China’s Harmonious Entertainment Shanghai, Hong Kong’s Pegasus Motion Pictures, & Korea’s Starhaus Entertainment.

6 CELEBITIES BOOKED

Wes Anderson, Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, William Friedkin, Paolo Sorrentino & Italian star architect Renzo Piano are among onstage speakers recruited by new artistic topper Antonio Monda for the 10th edition of the recently reconfigured Rome Film Festival. Anderson (pictured) is booked for a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. author Donna Tartt about their love for Italian movies; Joel Coen and McDormand will speak about what it’s like to be husband and wife on set, and also on the notion of “muse”; Friedkin will hold forth with an as yet unspecified Italian master; Sorrentino will screen and discuss a previously unseen short of his and talk about the films that formed his cinematic vision. Renzo Piano will talk about the rapport between movies and architecture. Monda, a New-York based Italian journalist and academic with ties to the U.S. film and literary worlds, recently replaced Marco Mueller as Rome’s artistic director, after Mueller’s three-year mandate expired. Piera Detassis, a prominent Italian film journalist, critic and fest topper, was named Rome prexy.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL TO PAY HOMAGE TO FEDERICO FELLINI

Venice Film Festival will pay homage to Federico Fellini with a special world premiere screening of a freshly restored copy of ‘Amarcord’ in Sept, 2015, 4 decades after the Italian master’s reminiscence of his native ‘Rimini’ won the foreign – language film Oscar. The announcement was made by Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna, the prominent film archives known globally as a prime film preservation entity. It handled the restoration, sponsored by Italian fashion e – tailer Yoox Group in collaboration with Warner Bros & Italy’s Cristaldi Film, which produced the 1973 pic, the title of which means ‘I remember’ in the local dialect. Fellini’s. ode to his youth and satirical depiction of small – town Italy during 1930’s ‘Fascism’ is considered his most personal film. Co – written with poet & scribe Tonino Guerra, and shot at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, it is set to Nina Rota’s nostalgic score. Cineteca di Bologna topper Gianluca Farinelli noted that ‘Amarcord’ is the last of 4 pics Fellini won Oscars for, and “in some way marks the start of the final period in his career. I also believe this film speaks a lot about Italy to an international audience,” Farinelli added. The 72nd edition of the Venice fest will run 2nd to 12th Sept, 2015.