Month: May 2019

Women Honored at Cannes as Gender Parity Drive Draws Scrutiny

Movie stars including Salma Hayek and Eva Longoria celebrated the role of women in cinema at a glitzy gala in Cannes on Sunday, amid a drive to promote gender equality in the industry that is still falling short of what many campaigners hoped for.

Cannes’ film festival, the world’s most important cinema showcase, last year signed a pledge to get an equal number of men and women in its top management by 2020 that is gradually gathering momentum at similar European and U.S. events.

Actors and filmmakers participating in this year’s edition have joined activists in warning that while industry attitudes were changing, progress was still slow.

“We have so much work to do and I just think we can’t let up,” Longoria told journalists at the Women in Motion dinner at Cannes, part of a program set up by luxury group Kering to push for gender equality in cinema.

“Whenever we see something improving we can’t just say ‘Oh OK let’s relax, the momentum’s going to go that way’. It won’t continue to go that way, we have to continue to change the industry for ourselves.”

Chinese actress Gong Li, the star of “Farewell My Concubine”, was awarded a prize for her career at the event.

At Cannes, four women are contending for this year’s top Palme D’Or film prize, including Franco-Senegalese Mati Diop and France’s Celine Sciamma, out of 21 entries – or just under 20 percent of the total.

Elsewhere, the proportion has sometimes been higher, with over 40 percent of the films competing at Berlin’s festival in February made by women.

“We hear a lot about how times are changing and improving, and it’s true. The idea is to support that trend. (But) the figures still don’t look good,” said Delphyne Besse, a film sales specialist and one of the founders of 50/50 by 2020, the collective behind the gender parity pledge signed by Cannes.

Of the 47 film festivals that have so far backed the drive globally, 38 percent have female heads, according to the lobby group’s figures.

Short shrift

Industry insiders said the slow progress was reflected in everything from the short shrift female directors still got in the media to their under-representation at industry events.

“Women have been making films for 11 decades now,” British actress and star of zombie movie “The Dead Don’t Die” Tilda Swinton told a news conference earlier this week.

“There are countless films by women. The question is why don’t we know about them,” she said, adding that even obituaries for female filmmakers tended to be dwarfed by those dedicated to men.

Cannes’ organizers have said they were not planning to introduce quotas dictating the gender balance of the films selected to compete at the festival.

“Cannes is only at the end of the chain. This needs to start with encouragement at film schools,” festival director Thierry Fremaux said last week.

The cinema showcase is looking to include more women its board, however, and the festival jury this year was more balanced.

“Atlantics” director Diop said festivals were still a logical starting point to highlight women’s work in the industry.

“It starts with the films, there is no festival without films, so it is an extraordinary exhibition that will give the films much bigger exposure,” she told Reuters in an interview.

 

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Frenchman Pagenaud Takes 1st Indianapolis 500 Pole

Simon Pagenaud turned a stressful weekend into an unforgettable celebration.

Pagenaud earned his first career Indianapolis 500 pole with a four-lap average of 229.992 mph, edging three-time pole winner Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot on Sunday. He is the first Frenchman to win the Indy 500 pole in 100 years.

Carpenter, also the team owner, will start second while Pigot, the fastest qualifier Saturday, completes the front row and Chevrolet sweep of the top three spots.

Pagenaud will try to become the 18th Indy 500 winner for Team Penske and second consecutive to sweep the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Will Power of Penske did it last season.

“This is incredible, this is the biggest race in the world,” said Pagenaud, who snapped a 21-race losing streak last week with a win on Indy’s road course.

This month has been every bit as memorable for Pagenaud as it has been for Roger Penske, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of making his first 500 as a team owner.

But Pagenaud came to the party on shaky footing because his job status with Penske is believed to be unsecure.  But the road course win was his first since the 2017 season finale and now Pagenaud has his first pole since 2017 and momentum heading into next weekend’s race.

“We gave it everything we had and it balanced well,” he said. “We trimmed (the car) more than yesterday but the car was just outstanding.”

Penske’s other drivers couldn’t even come close to Pagenaud, who moved up two spots from Saturday.

Defending race winner Power qualified sixth at 228.645. Josef Newgarden, the 2017 series champ, qualified eighth at 228.396 and three-time 500 champion Helio Castroneves did not make the nine-car pole shootout.

All three of Carpenter’s cars were fast and Ed Jones will start fourth as the trio went 2-3-4 behind Pagenaud.

“That’s the way this series is now, everything is thousandths and hundredths of a second all the way through,” Carpenter said. “You’ve got to be perfect to really put it together because if you’re not, you’re going to slide down.”

Rookie Colton Herta was the top Honda-powered driver at fifth with a speed of 229.086.

Sebastien Bourdais was seventh at 228.621 and Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy winner, was ninth at 228.247. Bourdais drives for Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan and Rossi is the only Andretti Autosport driver in the first three rows.

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Boeing Admits Flaw in 737 MAX Simulator Software

Boeing acknowledged it had to correct flaws in its 737 MAX flight simulator software used to train pilots, after two deadly crashes involving the aircraft that killed 346 people.

“Boeing has made corrections to the 737 MAX simulator software and has provided additional information to device operators to ensure that the simulator experience is representative across different flight conditions,” it said in a statement Saturday.

The company did not indicate when it first became aware of the problem or whether it informed regulators.

Its statement marked the first time Boeing acknowledged there was a design flaw in software linked to the 737 MAX, whose MCAS anti-stall software has been blamed in large part for the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy.

According to Boeing, the flight simulator software was incapable of reproducing certain flight conditions similar to those at the time of the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March or the Lion Air crash in October.

The company said the latest “changes will improve the simulation of force loads on the manual trim wheel,” a rarely used manual wheel to control the plane’s angle.

“Boeing is working closely with the device manufacturers and regulators on these changes and improvements, and to ensure that customer training is not disrupted,” it added.

Southwest Airlines, a major 737 MAX customer with 34 of the aircraft in its fleet, told AFP it expected to receive the first simulator “late this year.”

The planes have been grounded around the world, awaiting approval from U.S. and international regulators before they can return to service.

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Company Touts the Value of Ice Cream Made with Insects

Lately we’ve been hearing about the nutritional value of eating insects, such as high-protein ants, grasshoppers and crickets. But what about insects in ice cream? A company in South Africa is producing just that, saying the sweet treat may even be better with bugs. VOAs Deborah Block tells us about it.

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The Neon Attraction of Las Vegas

The famous Las Vegas strip lights up the night with neon signs and animated images. The Las Vegas Neon Museum has been lighting up the city since 2012. That’s when activists, art lovers and local officials decided that neon signs that have seen better days deserved to be viewed and enjoyed by a new generation of tourists. Roman Mamonov traveled to Las Vegas and visited the unusual museum. Anna Rice narrates his story.

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Scientists Building Proteins See a World of Possibilities

The old saying goes “you can’t beat Mother Nature.” But in a lab at New York University, scientists are trying to duplicate one of her basic activities building proteins. Faith Lapidus reports.

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Radio Telescope Explores Cosmic Mysteries

Every year astronomers are seeing farther and more clearly into the cosmos than ever before. One of the ways they are doing it is by linking telescopes together to make them more powerful. The Very Large Array in New Mexico supported by the National Science Foundation is one incredible example. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Fan Votes Lift The Netherlands to Eurovision Song Contest Win

The Netherlands won the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv Saturday, with Duncan Laurence’s doleful piano ballad “Arcade” crowned champion of Europe’s annual music extravaganza.

The 25-year-old was tapped as an early front-runner before the Grand Final but was only ranked third after the vote of professional juries from the 41 participating countries, trailing Sweden and North Macedonia. He surged ahead thanks to the fan vote, securing The Netherlands its fifth win ever in the competition. Italy finished second, followed by Russia, Switzerland and Norway.

“This is to dreaming big. This is to music first, always,” Laurence said, as he was handed the trophy from last year’s winner, Israel’s Netta Barzilai.

About 200 million people around the world were believed to have watched the annual campy contest with 26 nations battling in the Grand Final of the 64th Eurovision.

Madonna was the star attraction, performing her hit staple, “Like a Prayer,” marking 30 years since its release, and a new song “Future” from her forthcoming album “Madame X.” She took the stage after participants wrapped up their performances shortly after midnight when the elaborate voting process got underway across Europe.

To maximize onscreen tension, performers are ranked by a mix of fan votes and professional juries. Spectators could not vote for their own country, but like-minded nations tend to fall into blocs that back their regional favorites, with politics meshing into art.

Over-the-top spectacle

The Eurovision debuted in the wake of World War II to heal a divided continent. Over the years, the earnest show of European unity has ballooned into an over-the-top, gay-friendly spectacle that brings together acts from across the continent, including those with little or no connection to Europe, such as Australia.

Israel earned the right to host the show after Barzilai won last year’s competition with her catchy pop anthem “Toy.”

The ostensibly non-political affair has tried to avoid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has largely succeeded, despite swirling threats of controversy. Calls for performers to boycott the show over Israeli policies toward Palestinians failed to generate much momentum.

​Politics kept at bay

A small protest took place outside Tel Aviv’s Expo Center before the show, following another one from musicians in Gaza earlier in the week. A recent round of rocket fire toward Israel from there also failed to temper excitement.

Madonna herself had faced calls from a Palestinian-led campaign to avoid performing at the event in Israel. But the Queen of Pop rejected the boycott motions, saying she will “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda.” Still, two of her embracing dancers sported the flags of Israel and the Palestinians on their backs.

All eyes were on Iceland’s controversial steampunk band Hatari, which had drawn attention for initially saying it would be “absurd” to participate in Israel because of its policies toward the Palestinians. They had vowed to use the Eurovision spotlight to expose the “face of the occupation,” but their live performance of grinding metal rock passed without incident. Only at the end of the broadcast, when their final vote tally was announced, did they whip out a Palestinian flag, to sounds of boos from the audience.

For Israel, the mega event offered a much-anticipated opportunity to put its good face forward and project an image of normalcy to the world. Israel-themed promotional clips featuring each of the participants dancing in various scenic locations across the country streamed before each performance to a TV audience expected to be larger than that of the Super Bowl.

Israeli hosts

The event itself was being hosted by a quartet of Israeli celebrities, including top model Bar Refaeli. Israel’s own Wonder Woman Gal Gadot also made a cameo video appearance. The Tel Aviv hall was packed with thousands of screaming fans, while tens of thousands gathered to watch the final at the city-sponsored Eurovision village in Tel Aviv and at public screenings elsewhere.

As the reigning champion, Israel swept straight through to the finals — along with the five European countries who most heavily funded the event. The other 20 participants qualified through a pair of semifinal rounds.

Sweden’s soulful “Too Late for Love,” sung by John Lundvik, topped the professional jury vote and seemed to be on its way to carrying forward Sweden’s successful Eurovision track record 45 years after Swedish icons ABBA won with “Waterloo.”

Israel has won the Eurovision four previous times and it has provided the country with some of its cultural touchstones. “Hallelujah” became the country’s unofficial national song after Milk and Honey won the contest for Israel when it hosted the event in the late 1970s, and Dana International became a national hero and global transgender icon when she won with “Diva” in 1998. Barzilai became a role model for plus-size women after her win last year. She has been unapologetic about her weight, the loud colors she wears, and the funky chicken moves and sounds that have become her trademark.

All of Israel’s former winners took part in Saturday’s event with Barzilai and Dana International ceremoniously getting it under way.

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War of Will Wins Preakness, Holds Off Riderless Horse

War of Will bounced back from a bumpy ride in the Kentucky Derby to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, holding off a field that included a riderless horse that threw his jockey just out of the gate and still finished the race. 

 

Trainer Mark Casse got his first Triple Crown victory, with War of Will unbothered starting from the inside No. 1 post position for the second consecutive race. War of Will was interfered with in the Kentucky Derby, which led to first-place finisher Maximum Security being disqualified.

Bodexpress threw Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez just out of the starting gate but still finished the race. An outrider tried to swoop in at the top of the stretch and corral Bodexpress, but the horse sped up and passed a few competitors near the finish line — and kept going.

Technically, Bodexpress gets a did-not-finish.

War of Will made a move around the final turn led by jockey Tyler Gaffalione and didn’t relent down the stretch. Hard-charging late addition Everfast came in second and Owendale third. 

An inquiry was briefly put up on the board at Pimlico Race Course but quickly taken down. 

Casse, 58, entered a horse in the Preakness for the fifth time and came closest two years ago when Classic Empire finished second.

The victory was also a breakthrough for Gaffalione, who has become something of a rising star since being named top apprentice rider in 2015. Gaffalione, 24, was aboard War of Will for the colt’s sixth consecutive race and came away with the biggest victory of his young career. 

 

Bob Baffert-trained Improbable was beaten as the favorite for the second consecutive Triple Crown race. 

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Huawei Founder Sees Little Effect From US Sanctions

Huawei Technologies’ founder and chief executive said Saturday that the growth of the Chinese tech giant “may slow, but only slightly,” because of recent U.S. restrictions.  

 

In remarks to the Japanese press and reported by Nikkei Asian Review, Ren Zhengfei reiterated that the Chinese telecom equipment maker had not violated any law. 

“It is expected that Huawei’s growth may slow, but only slightly,” Ren said in his first official comments after the U.S. restrictions, adding that the company’s annual revenue growth might undershoot 20%.  

 

On Thursday, Washington put Huawei, one of China’s biggest and most successful companies, on a trade blacklist that could make it extremely difficult for Huawei to do business with U.S. companies. China slammed the decision, saying it would take steps to protect its companies. 

Trade, security issues

 

The developments surrounding Huawei come at a time of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing and amid concerns from the United States that Huawei’s smartphones and network equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans, allegations the company has repeatedly denied. 

 

A similar U.S. ban on China’s ZTE Corp. had almost crippled business for the smaller Huawei rival early last year before the curb was lifted. 

 

The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday that it might soon scale back restrictions on Huawei. 

 

Ren said the company was prepared for such a step and that Huawei would be “fine” even if U.S. smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. and other American suppliers would not sell chips to the company. 

 

Huawei’s chip arm HiSilicon said Friday that it had long been prepared for the possibility of being denied U.S. chips and technology, and that it was able to ensure a steady supply of most products. 

 

The Huawei founder said that the company would not be taking instructions from the U.S. government. 

 

“We will not change our management at the request of the U.S. or accept monitoring, as ZTE has done,” he said.

In January, U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment accusing the Chinese company of engaging in bank fraud to obtain embargoed U.S. goods and services in Iran and to move money out of the country via the international banking system. 

 

Ren’s daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada in December in connection with the indictment. Meng, who was released on bail, remains in Vancouver and is fighting extradition. She has maintained her innocence.  

 

Ren has previously said his daughter’s arrest was politically motivated.

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