Coronavirus and Food Security in Nigeria

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In this interview, Agriculture Expert and Entrepreneur, John Akerele, shares his views on what Nigerians can do to guaranty food security in the country.

#COVID19 #FleeingPatients #COVID19 #Lockdown

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200 Nigerians return from the United States

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In line with the Federal government’s announcement that it is committed to bringing back Nigerians around the world who as a result of the global corona virus pandemic , another mercy flight landed in the Federal capital Abuja this morning .

Two hundred Nigerians had departed the United States of America from John F Kennedy Airport in New York aboard an Ethiopian airlines aircraft. They will be quarantined for the mandatory fourteen day period and tested for any symptoms to rule out covid 19.

Nigeria’s first covid 19 infection was recorded on the 27th of February – an Italian National who has since recovered and donated his convalescent plasma to aid research into the development of a vaccine for the virus and a possible cure.

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For more great content go to https://tvcnews.tv

Download our mobile app for iPad, iPhone and Android at http://mobile.tvcnews.tv or go to the store

#United States #coronaviruspandemic#Nigeria

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On What Would Have Been the Launch of Cannes, a Celebration of 26 Film Festivals — and 26 Festival Directors | Filmmaker Magazine

&The Cannes Film Festival and Market

by Kaleem Aftab
in Festivals & Events
on May 12, 2020

Film festivals are all about a community coming together to celebrate an art form that we all love. They were one of the first group of events to cancelled when the coronavirus began to spread. The current crisis in the film industry (and across society and the economy as a whole) — the job losses and closures — made it difficult to publish my look back over my year in film festivals, as I’ve done on an annual basis for Filmmaker since 2014. (Also, I had broken my finger over Christmas so was unable to type for three weeks, which is when I usually pen these articles!) Plus, because last year I’d been to 26 film festivals, a record for me, the piece also took a long time to write.

Twenty-six film festivals is a lot. In December of last year, I promised my partner that in 2020, I would go to fewer festivals. Little did we know that my hand was going to be forced by the tragedy of a virus pandemic. Looking back, I’m so glad I went to so many in 2019, seizing the day like I was in the Dead Poets Society.

Sitting here right now, as Cannes would have begun, I believe we will be lucky to see a film festival happen in a traditional way again in the Fall — if then. For all the efforts to put festivals online, there is nothing that matches the intoxicating atmosphere and excitement of attending. That’s why I go to so many of them. I miss hearing a projector whir and seeing a film for the first time, listening to filmmakers talk about their projects, the conversations with fellow attendees, the pitching of projects, those celebrating great reviews, others commiserating. I even miss the 10-minute standing ovations made more out of courtesy rather than enthusiasm. I’ve even started doing this at home now.

So while it may seem odd to have a look back at 2019 film festival season in May, it also seems so fitting to publish today. Absence has made the heart grow fonder. Right now is a time when the role of film festivals is being analysed more than ever by festival directors, as they decide what is essential, what they have to keep, or for some, what they can replicate online. Most importantly, film festivals have to comprehend how can they stay relevant when the spectacle that is their heart is on life-support.

In my mind, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as attending a film festival. I look forward to the moment of being able to participate in more than 26 festivals in a year. (Just don’t tell my partner!).

The festival director is the public face of a film festival. They guide the program and set the agenda. But who are they? In 2019, I tried to meet as many festival directors as possible, and from time-to-time chat about the poster of the festival. I wanted to know if I could see the personality of the festival director at the event. Little did I know when I started this process in January that I would go to 26 film festivals, either as a journalist, moderating Q and A’s or giving talks on festival strategy. 

Tromsø International Film Festival 

Festival Director: Martha Otte

American Martha Otte first worked as a volunteer at the Tromsø International Film Festival in 1998. By 2005 she became festival director. 2019 was her last year as the position at Tromsø  I’ve known Martha for several years, first meeting her at the now-defunct Abu Dhabi Film Festival. We’ve bonded over films. I’ve appeared on the jury at Tromsø in the past, and this year, she asked me to do the Q&A sessions with Canadian filmmaker Philippe Lesage, following screenings of his excellent coming-of-age drama Genesis.

It takes a kooky personality to want to live in the Arctic Circle, where during the film festival, the sun never quite rises above the horizon. Despite all the darkness, the irony is that Otte is an insomniac. Luckily she’s found a profession where staying up in the dark is a necessary component.

Otte says of her philosophy to running the festival: “We are especially interested in films that are ‘off the radar’ and are not standard festival fare, which doesn’t mean experimental; it just means we want to make our own discoveries.”

I was too busy buying trinkets with Gaspar Noé and chasing the Aurora Borealis to make too many movie discoveries of my own. It’s that kind of place! The one discovery I made was Egil Håskjold Larsen’s Where Man Returned, about a lonely old white man lives in the Arctic wilderness with his dog. He listens to football and shipping news on his radio. It was a metaphor for so many conversations had at festivals this year. 

One thing that did catch my eye was the poster of the festival. It featured an image of a figure dressed in a thawb with the face drawn as the Tromso Film Festival logo. The poster was designed by Christopher Ide (AKA Doffa), of design office Tank, and he has been the go to guy for the festival for a number of years. The image was smart on so many levels. Since 2001, Tromso and Gaza have been twin cities. The festival also had a strong focus on Arab cinema with screenings of Sameh Zoabi’s satire of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict Tel Aviv on Fire, Dalia Kury’s prison recreation documentary Privacy of Wounds, and a section called Arabiyat — the Arab word for women — celebrating female filmmakers from the region and programmed in association with Morocco’s Cinematheque de Tanger.

Rotterdam International Film Festival 

Festival Director Bero Beyer

The next festival I attended was another festival where the festival director was looking to move their life away from festivals. In July, Rotterdam head honcho Bero Beyer announced that he had accepted a job as CEO of the Netherlands Film Fund, commencing in March 2020, after this years’ edition. More recently, it was announced that his replacement would be MUBI acquirer Vanja Kaludje, who had previously worked for the festival. 

2019’s edition was Beyer’s fifth in the post. He’s a confident guy. In the role, Beyer has grown the industry side of the festival and increased the focus on experiences rather than just watching films. The festival takes place when a lot of American eyes are on Sundance, but he’s keen on appealing to the 180 ethnicities found in Rotterdam. “The first thing we want to get right is that the program is representing the world and not just one side of the world,” Beyer tells me on his way to a Claire Denis seminar.

Beyer says of his philosophy to the festival, “We do what others don’t. We always go one step further. What makes us special is the stuff that is slightly crazy and on the fringe of things. People show up to watch avant-garde.”

The film festival posters are part of a campaign living under the umbrella of “Planet IFFR.” Planet IFFR is a concept formulated in 2017, where the emphasis was put on the number of people involved in the movie making process. The various staff on a set are in Rotterdam’s eyes, representive of the cultures and peoples of the world. “This year, we asked what makes us alive? It’s more than facts and truth because they are long gone, facts don’t matter – it’s emotions.” 

“In the poster campaign the faces and the words used to describe the expressions being pulled seem to conflict. There is a happy face, but the poster says angry. These seemingly oppositional emotions are reflected in the films we show. Our cinema doesn’t give you an answer – it gives you a question. The films don’t give you a feeling you have foreseen – they give you an emotion you have not anticipated it’s like a rollercoaster ride without a seatbelt.”

A case in point is Sacha Polak’s Dirty God, an international co-production that blurs fact and fiction by having Vicky Knight, who was a victim of an acid attack, play the victim of an acid attack. Yet from this starting point, a cinematic truth emerges, very different from reality. Or Present.Perfect, the Hivos Tiger Award winner, which is made up of footage of China taken from the Internet by Chicago based Chinese director Shengze Zhu.  

Beyer admits that the pluralism highlighted in the program could be better reflected in the diversity of the staff, stating, “That’s an on-going process.” And one from next year, he’ll presumably be pushing his successor to achieve.

Gothenburg Film Festival 

Festival Director: Jonas Holmberg

Gothenburg is Scandinavia’s biggest film festival, and just like Scandi Noir, it remains something of a mystery to me. It’s the one festival where I make an extra effort to watch the pitching session, where some filmmakers talk about the movies that they intend to make, and also others talk about the films that are deep into post-production. It’s intriguing as there is always something that ends up at Cannes, and not always what you expect. Usually, I hate seeing movie trailers or knowing anything about a film. Nonetheless, somehow I can listen to a Scandinavian auteur talking about their project in intricate detail, and yet see something entirely different on-screen. Is this because of what they say, or how I listen?

I did not know artistic director Jonas Holmberg before the festival. That despite the fact he’s been the head honcho at Gothenburg since 2014, when he was promoted from his position as international film programmer, and I’ve been to previous editions under his watch. His route into festival life was as a film critic. It’s interesting as that once familiar way into programming has gone into decline as dedicated film programmers appear, graduating from film schools, which have recently started hosting courses in curating and curating theory.

Holmberg seemed to be the quintessential Scandinavian when I met him. He dresses well and says all the right things. My younger self would have looked at him like the epitome of cool, but now I find him a little awkward.  He’s also good-natured. When I start by asking him about his poster, his reaction is a sincere, “How wonderful!” There’s a lot to like.

“We have a tradition of asking a local artist to design the poster,” states Holmberg. “They’re given a blank slate to design whatever they come up, and they come back to us with their design. It’s one of the most exciting days of the festival seeing what they have designed.”

It’s a very relaxed way of doing things and it has been that way since 1992. It also means that a look at the festival poster archive is like a journey to a gallery. The theme of the 2019 film festival was Apocalypse, which might explain how I came to watch a movie, Aniara, from the inside of a coffin. Jesper Waldersten was the artist chosen to create the one-sheet and created an eerie yet beautiful work in the style of horror and space movies from his childhood. Think, Alien, David Lynch and John Carpenter, then throw in a bit of Bergman, think of that image in black and white, and with a face populated by figures looking like they stepped out of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Hell. 

The Scandi vibe was also apparent in Swede Anna Eborn’s fantastic Transnistra, a film that felt like the ’70s even though it is a breakaway state on the border of Moldavia in present day.

Berlin Film Festival 

Head of the Berlinale: Dieter Kosslick

It was Dieter Kosslick’s last stand at the Berlin Film Festival. The year before many prominent German film industry figures called for a change at the top of the Berlin Film Festival arguing that the festival had become irrelevant. The call was heeded and before the festival it was long since announced that his 18th edition would be his last. Kosslick is a unique character. His style and matter is defiantly old school, and eccentric. In his final year, Kosslick programmed a festival that was staunchly unapologetic. No bones thrown to those who criticised him. So the festival was full of challenging choices and featuring buried treasures for those who looked deep into the program. It will be interesting to see how and if that takes changes under the new guard. 

Kosslick attended an event that I organized to celebrate the life and work of publicist Richard Lormond, who had died from an illness a few months before the festival. Kosslick took time out of his busy schedule to say some kind words, and it served as a reminder that the work of a festival director at a festival is more than about selecting films and is also about social interactions. Acknowledging the work of those who help contribute to an event’s success is important as it takes many to put together a great festival.  

Later in the festival, as we sat down to talk about his legacy and the Berlinale poster, I couldn’t help but think that retirement had come at the right time for Kosslick as he was being outpaced by changing times. 

“The bear is our symbol. And for a couple of years now, Swiss artists have been doing our poster,” said Kosslick. “For a couple of years now, the bear has been cruising around going to different locations in Berlin. A lot of people have been asking who are these bears? We thought because it’s the end of my tenure, we would lift the secret of the bear. When the bear takes off his head, it’s the audience that is underneath. The bear is normal people who are on the way to the Berlinale.”

Over the past 18 years, he has worked with many agencies, and they all come up with very different designs, which is evident in the change in the style of the posters every few years. 

“This year, a discussion arose because there was a black person in one of our costumes and we talked about what would be the symbolism of having a black person in a bear costume,” admits Kosslick. “Would it look like discrimination? We wanted to show the variety of the audience that attend the Berlinale, but we have been afraid that if we used it, it would create a discrimination debate. Two people on our poster were from our staff were used as well. I don’t know all of the people personally. We thought about putting me in a costume, but in the end, we believed it was too much.”

The Berlinale like many other festivals this year signed the 50/50 by 2020 pledge to pursued gender parity. “The pledge was a political aim, but I think we are far ahead at the Berlinale,” says Kosslick. We have seven films from female directors in competition and with our staff and selection committee, there are a lot of women in prominent positions.’

Indeed, the film that stuck out most at the festival to my mind was a film screened out of competition, because it had been at Sundance, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir.

Stockfish Film Festival 

Festival Director: Marzibil Snæfríõar Sæmundardóttir

Taking place in Reykjavik, Stockfish Film Festival is an event that wants to showcase Icelandic films to industry people to film exhibitors, programmers and distributors from around the world. Several Icelandic bodies come together to promote their wares, and it’s a great excuse to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world, with a burgeoning and exciting coffee scene. Yup, already by early March, coffee was my fuel.

The main two strands at the festival are an industry-pitching event, which has an overlap with Gothenburg and a competition programme of short films. There are also screenings of best of the fests, aimed to get the local audiences out of their warm wooden houses and into the fabulous cinema Bíó Paradís. From floor to high ceiling on one wall of the cinema are some fantastic posters designed by local artists to coincide with the release of huge movies, so it’s no surprise that Stockfish take their poster design seriously as well.

Sæmundardóttir has been the Festival Director of the Stockfish film festival since 2015. Before that, she was a writer and director. It was her love of film, and life, that led to her taking on the festival director role. A social butterfly, she brings a lightness and fun air to the event and promoting movies.

“We use a young designer and last year he came up with a version of yellow, which we liked a lot, and that has become the color of the festival,” says Sæmundardóttir. “The poster is exactly the same as last year, except for the dates!”

This attitude seems about right for a festival that knows what it wants to be and has a focussed goal. It’s a festival that has a great atmosphere, mainly because all the films take place in one cinema. They pick at most 25 films, which they consider the best of the fests, in addition to the industry events. The one thing they want everyone to watch is the local short films, which is a good way to start taking notice of local talent, and for local talent to realise that they’ll end up needing to make European co-productions if they want filmmaking to be their job. 

Bergamo Film Meeting 

Artistic Director: Angelo Signorelli

I love going to festivals that are off the beaten track. The Bergamo film meeting is one of those delightful festivals where much of the joy is in seeing classic movies on the big screen. There are new films that play, but I was more interested in seeing Jean-Pierre Léaud turn up to a screening of The 400 Blows, as part of a retrospective on his films, an exhibition of photographs from the set of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights and a retrospective on filmmaker and cinematographer Karpo Godina, an exponent of Yugoslavia’s “Black Wave.” In 2020 they were set to take an in-depth look at Jerzy Skolimowski. It’s a festival that loves outsiders. 

The desire to take a new look at the past is imprinted on the festival’s poster, which gives us a classic French New Wave shot of a young Léaud on the set of The 400 Blows in triplicate. Festival director Angelo Signorelli, who helped found the festival, struck me as a laid back, conscientious type. The easy-living style is one that he is happy to replicate at the festival with a communal ethos. A committee seemingly decides everything. No wonder it’s called the Film Meetings, because, in my two days in Bergamo, it felt like a shared experience, one where good coffee shops were not too far away and talking about films was as important as watching them. 

Signorelli had a similar attitude to the marketing material, “The poster is a collective choice. We liked the image a lot this year. It’s cinematographic, suggesting movement and different perspectives. The central focus is on the repeated image, which is also out of focus. In a way, it speaks about the complexity of cinema. How by looking at the cinema of the past, and the present, we see future trends. It reflects the multiplicity of the sections that the festival has.”

For the past four years, SUQ Republic has designed the poster. “They really understand the philosophy of the film meetings.”

Qumra  

Festival Director: Fatma Al Remaihi

The Doha Film Institute has been doing great work over the years, and industry gathering Qumra continues to be a success. It’s often a sign of confidence of an organisation when they are not afraid to admit to divided opinions and frank discourse. The following conversation between Festival director, Fatma Al Remaihi and DFI’s Director of Strategy and Development Hanaa Issa about the poster for this year’s event was one of my favourite moments of the year. 

Fatma: These images [on the numerous posters] represent the projects that we have, the jewels of Qumra. The principal image for the main poster and front of catalogue is from the first Qatari film in post-production and for us that is huge.

Hanaa: The circle in the poster is kind of our symbol. It reminds of the Q for Qumra and also the camera lens.

Fatma: But the question we had was, do we want to use an image that represented peace, or did we have one that was about war?

Hanaa: We had a long debate.

Fatma: We had different opinions. Do you want to tell him yours?

Hanaa: We had a debate. There was this one behind you, and in terms of artwork, it worked well with the colour and catalogue. I surveyed the office, and some of us felt that highlighting on the book of the projects and on the main catalogue an image of soldiers and war, especially of soldiers killing the farmers in Mexico, that this was perhaps the wrong message to send out to the world. We opted to go for something more peaceful. But then we had this debate around the fact that we do live in a hostile world, there is a lot of unfairness and injustice. Even though we want to highlight this, and make it part of the conversation, I thought to put an image that represented hope was more suited to who we are at Qumra, especially as our projects already contain a lot of stories about war and refugees.

Fatma: Whereas I thought that the world is a mess, and we should highlight it and not be afraid of it, we are not celebrating it, we are highlighting it. We spent the whole day with this discussion.

Hanaa: We argue all the time. We’ve known each other for a long time.

Fatma: It took the whole day this discussion. Going into work that day, I knew that we were going to have this discussion.

Hanaa: Me too, I ate a good breakfast, so I was ready to stand up for my view.

London Taiwan Film Festival UK

Festival Director: Aephie Huimi

I went to the opening day of the inaugural festival. They have a tie in with Stockfish, patly because Festival Director Aephie Huimi has strong links to Iceland and Taiwan. The opening was the UK premiere of Tsai-Ming Liang’s VR cinematic experience, The Deserted, with the director in attendance. I’d inadvertently had a hand in this happening, as I met Huimi through a producing pal friend of mine a number of times. When she revealed she was thinking of putting on a Taiwan Festival in the UK, I immediately mentioned The Deserted and said that she had to screen it. Little did I know that they would then have a retrospective of Liang’s work and he would come to London. It was a small but perfectly formed festival, which is how these looks at national cinema should be.

At first glance, I didn’t know what to make of the poster which seemed like a lot of undecipherable elements around an alien looking sea creature. Then Huimi informed me, “We wanted the poster to be as cute as possible.”

The poster designer, Ting Cheng, was also at the opening night party added, “She wanted something that would represent Taiwanese culture. I wanted something multicultural, and so we got a sea monster drinking Bubble Tea that is made up on the Taiwanese alphabet, which is full of symbols and these different shapes are representative of different cultures.”

Huimi adds, “You cannot define Taiwan in one shape, so every year, the festival will take on different forms, and that is why the sea monster is significant.”

All of a sudden, the poster took on a profound meaning that I’d not been able to see. It was a good reminder, not just of the value of art, but the importance of listening to others, and, of course, reading critics to elucidate and fill in gaps of knowledge. 

CPH: DOX 

Festival Head: Tine Fischer

“The posters for me are part of the core DNA of the festival. I’m so involved in the posters in a way that drives people mad. When we started working, we had external graphic designers, and now I hire designers so that they are employed inside the organisation and work with me for months! Each time I used agencies, I ended up being in massive conflict with them, mainly because, for me, it’s so delicate what you do with posters. When you said posters, I thought this is so fucking spot on, because it’s a nightmare each year, really a nightmare, because it’s challenging to find the balance in the posters from what I believe is the core DNA, namely a very active civic voice when it comes to political activism. You’re addressing something that people need to react to, not only will this look nice emotionally, but really react to it politically. Then it also needs to reflect an artistic profile that deals very much with non-fiction as cinema and as art. It can’t be a poster that will resemble an NGO perspective. So that balance has to be that it’s highly political and activist but also speaks with a more contemporary art, conceptual language. Then it needs to appeal to our audience, which is from young hipsters to grown-up decision makers. It’s a headache because it’s so difficult.”

“This year, I worked with the same graphic designer that I worked with for the last few years. So he works in-house for half the year, being a part of the process and understanding what the film process is about, but also what kind of films we will have. He saw climate change would be a big issue, but how do you do a poster on climate change? That’s almost impossible as all images relating to climate change have been used and overused. Then he came up with this image, with a woman’s breasts that have been sunburnt basically, but that makes it delicate to put out in public. It’s not overly clear what it’s about, but it is about someone who is not careful. We have the Morse code symbols on it to reflect a universal language, and then some images show images of climate change, there is a lifebuoy for example. There are lots of messages in that picture.”

I had started to feel like I’d seen most approaches to festival poster design, and just as I was beginning to tire of asking festival directors about it, CPH: DOX’s Tine Fischer blew me out of the water. But that will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the festival over the years. She has taken the bull by the horns during her long tenure at the festival. She boldly changed the dates of the festival from the Fall to the Spring when she felt that the market was too crowded. The film choices have been radical, and she’s established CPH: DOX as one of the most exciting documentary festivals. 

The festival was also where I conducted one of my favourite interviews of the year, sitting down with Alex Winter. We discussed Bitcoin and The Panama Papers, as well as sexual abuse in the film industry. And of course Bill and Ted, we drank coffee together a couple of days after the announcement that he would appear in Bill And Ted 3. Of course, it was most excellent.

Panama Film Festival 

Artistic Director: Diana Sanchez

A few weeks before the Panama film festival took place Toronto International Film Festival announced that Diana Sanchez would be taking up a position in Toronto full-time. Much of Sanchez’s fantastic reputation that led to that Canada role has come from how she built up the Panama Film Festival into one of the most vibrant, forward-thinking and fun festivals in the Americas. Of course, from my side, it helped that Panama is home to Geisha Coffee, some of the best and most expensive beans on the planet. A competition-winning brew that would set you back $75 a cup in San Francisco retails for $9 in Panama. It’s still a lot to pay for a coffee, given that great blends retail at $4 here, but it’s not often that one can treat yourself daily to the champagne of the coffee world. The coffee and the festival were marvellous. This year it gave a great platform to films from Guatemala. It showcased how artists are trying to comprehend the human catastrophe caused by the years of dictatorship and, also the American support to the dictatorship. There is a similar sentiment in Panama where President George W. Bush ordered an invasion in December 1989.

In total contrast to the approach in Copenhagen, Diana Sanchez, in a somewhat more laidback manner, informed me that she didn’t get involved in the production of the poster. She is someone who knows what she likes to do and is happy to delegate the other jobs to others. She advised me to chat with Pituka Ortega, the Director and founder of the Film Festival, who was involved in the creation of the poster and appointed the new team that will be in charge of the 2020 edition.

“It’s the first time that we have worked with Cisco Merel, a Panamanian artist to create the poster,” Ortega says. “He works with geometrical shapes, and one of his masters is Venezuelan artist [Carlos] Cruz-Diez. When we spoke to him, he brought this concept to us that within these geometrical shapes that conveyed cinema. Artists are artists, and we just loved it and went with it. It’s a detachment from everything else we have done, and we loved working with an up-and-coming artist. It has opened a window for us to work with other up-and-coming artists from Panama. The unifying factor will be the logo. It represents the festival as a platform for new ideas and talent just like we are doing for a central American and Caribbean platform that we have invested so much energy and thought to, and our resources. ”

CineMAS 

Artistic Director Joe Wihl

Formerly, the United Arab Emirates was host to not one, but two great festivals. Then in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival closed after eight editions, and last year, far more surprisingly, the Dubai Film Festival closed. Fans of cinema in the UAE went from boom to bust. So it was great to see cinephiles take the matter into their own hands and launch an independent film festival at an excellent venue, Manarat Al Saadiyat (the MAS in CineMAS). It was a film festival designed by cinephiles for cinephiles that lasted a joyous four days, with master classes, workshops and screenings. The festival is a demonstration that good taste can be more valuable than finance.  

“The poster was made in Abu Dhabi by a branding agency who designed all our collateral,” Wihl told me. “We wanted a poster that connected film, cinema and the art world. We are lucky to show films that people don’t normally get to see, so we wanted it to reflect the artistic nature of the festival. The branding agency came back to us with three options, and we chose the one used because the brush strokes showed the interconnecting nature of the art world and film. We have five different colours that we used on the posters to reflect the diversity of cinema and the wide selection of films from around the world.”

Admittedly, it is hard for me not to like the festival director, since I played on the same soccer team as him for several years. He scored many goals in his time, so I wanted to go to support the festival. This festival may end up being a one-off, as rumours abound that Abu Dhabi may re-launch an international festival in 2020. But many rumours circulate here. 

Cannes 

Festival Director: Thierry Frémaux

Cannes makes a massive fanfare out of its poster. It is published before any film announcement and widely shared on social media. Arguably, this year’s poster featuring the recently departed French legend Agnes Varda was the most popular one-sheet in its history. And that is saying something! A great article by Sight and Sound’s Isabel Stevens argued: “Cannes has finally woken up to the power of the poster.” She posited that the photo-shopped reinterpretation of the iconic image of Varda standing on top of cinematographer Louis Stein when filming her first feature La Pointe Courte was created to demonstrate that Cannes is changing. Stevens argued, it “signals that the festival has, at long last, clocked that it needs to change. Does this change go deeper than a clever and overdue rebranding exercise? Only the number of female-directed films in future editions of the festival will tell.”

Sadly, not long after the poster release, the competition announcement came, and this change seemed to be an illusion with complaints circulating about the lack of female directors. The festival still snagged the best film of the year, Parasite, and one of the many joys of the film is the range of great posters that Bong Joon-Ho’s film has inspired by regional distributors around the world.

As for the likeable Frémaux, every year he proves how good he, and his team, are at their job of selecting the year’s best films. Nonetheless, using a classic image from the past shows how much he still looks back when so many people are crying out for him to look to the future. He is an enigma, just like his festival, whose policy to exclude films not guaranteed an exclusive first run in French cinemas seems more and more robust with every passing year. So far, it’s Netflix and not Cannes making changes to how they operate. 

Kultur Symposium Weimar

By June, unsurprisingly I had had my fill of film festivals, so it was a delight to be invited by the Goethe Institute to attend their second Kultur Symposium Weimar. It was an invite-only event that contained talks, performance art, films and debates.

For three days, more than 300 participants from all over the world came together at the Kultursymposium Weimar, including representatives from science, culture, politics, business, journalism and publishing. The first Kultursymposium Weimar took place in 2016 on the subject of The Sharing Game – Exchange in Culture and Society. The second edition from 19 to 21 of June 2019 was entitled Recalculating the Route. It was an incredibly inspiring event, and great to be somewhere where I did not see the same faces, and people were talking about social issues without the conversation being bound to a film. I also didn’t talk to anyone about the design of the poster for the event. Indeed from this point on in the year, my observation on the one-sheet became largely my own again. This event felt like a real marker separating the first part of the year focussing on the branding to the second part of the year, informed by trying to reconnect with the idea of looking at how film festivals relate the realities of the world and present the future. Of course, there were movies, but this event was really about new ideas and building better social groupings. 

London Indian Film Festival

Festival Director: Cary Rajinder Sawhney

The London Indian Film Festival celebrated a decade. It was a big year for Festival Director Cary Sawhney as he also collected an MBE for services to the film industry. His work is getting noticed. I dipped my toe into the festival attending a screening of The Flight, where it was my pleasure to be asked to host the Q and A with legendary Bengali Filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta. It was a lovely event held at the Cine Lumiere in London. It reminded me how lucky I was to be living in London, where almost every night there is some great film festival of some sort or some fantastic filmmaker giving a talk. For the festival to reach ten years, and be more significant than ever, takes some doing.

Oh and I don’t think I looked at the poster. Sorry, Cary! And, really I need to stay in my home time more often! 

Nordic Youth Film Festival

Festival Director: Hermann Greuel

Having started the year in Tromsø, for a week when the sun never rises above the horizon, it was nice to be back in the Arctic Circle for NUFF when the sun never dips below the horizon. I mean, it’s cold whatever the time of the year one is in the Arctic, but on a clear day, when you can actually glimpse the sun it is gorgeous. At NUFF, the efforts to build a politicised film community are what brightens-up every day of this youth orientated festival.  

NUFF is an annual short film festival and film workshop for young filmmakers up to the age of 26. These talents get split into several groups under the guidance of a filmmaker. They have a week to make a short film from scratch. On the final weekend, the freshly made short films screen as part of a short films festival. The mentors included producer Racha H Larsen and filmmaker Egil Håskjold Larsen, whose film Where Man Returns opened the Tromso International Film Festival. The prolific award-winning short filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel, Anders Emblem, whose film Hurry Slowly I had missed at Tromsø International Film Festival but saw at a special here. Inuk Jørgensen from Greenland and Virtual Reality expert Marta Ordeig were also in charge of a group, and composer Rune Simonsen was producing music for the images.

I delivered a film appreciation seminar and hosted a masterclass event with Mahdi Fleifel talking about his short films, which we screened in chronological order, as well as hosting Q&A sessions with some of the talents attending the workshops It was an awesome time!

Festival director Hermann Greuel is such a great personality and so friendly. I wish that I could wipe away the years, and be young enough to be accepted as one of the participants. It’s a truly great event, and one that seemed to be practising the philosophy preached at the Weimar Kultur Symposium. The future is sunny. 

Karlovy Vary Film Festival 

Festival Director Karel Och

Karel Och is one of the great festival directors of our times. He has good taste, hosts a well-respected film festival that has great talents, juries, parties and writing courses. So what’s not to like? Well, somehow on the first night I was put into the world’s most noisy hotel, above a party that went on until 4 am every night. Add to this that the Internet in the basement house in Parasite worked better than it did at the hotel and I wasn’t a happy camper. Thankfully, the next night they moved me to the edge of town, and the smile returned to my face.

Apart from that blip, I saw many unique films. HBO put on a great party. I’d seen so many films at Cannes, that I wasn’t as side-tracked by catching up with Cannes movies as I have been on past visits to Karlovy Vary film festival. It’s a great place to get a taste of films from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There was an excellent retrospective taking a look at the works of Egyptian maestro Youssef Chahine films. Even though I haven’t been for a few years, the festival seems familiar. Even the poster for the festival is the same design, this year the colours were changed to be black and white. So why is it, that I always leave Karlovy Vary with a but…

Every time I get home I think I’ll give Karlovy Vary a skip next time. But that’s usually because every second year clashes with a big soccer tournament. The festival will be happy that in 2022, the world cup is moving to the winter because of the hot Doha summer, that will probably be the year I’m not invited! The festival has a great press dinner, and at the main festival centre, there is a bar where everyone congregates. However, the festival still manages to get it wrong because it separates the industry, press and guests from each other. There feels like several festivals going on at the same time, which is a shame as really Karlovy Vary should be about breaking down those barriers between the different parts of the film community rather than reinforcing them. 

Locarno Film Festival 

Festival Director: Lili Hinstin

Locarno feels like a bit of a blur. It was the first year that Lili Hinstin was in the Festival hot seat. Her philosophy seems to be that evolution and not revolution was the best way to get her feet under the table. On my first night by the magnificent lake, I met her at an official dinner attended by Palme D’Or winner Bong Joon-Ho and also hosted were those programmers and filmmakers who put together the excellent Black Light retrospective. On the Industry side, the push to support filmmakers from around the world, especially from those areas without traditional support for independent cinema remains strong.

The poster also evolves slightly every year, but it noticeable evolved that little bit more this year, the main indicator of changes. What I like about Locarno is the use of the yellow and black leopard spots, which are always such a unique identifier. It’s also fun. There have been some inventive variations on the leopard theme, especially the kiss poster from the 59th edition in 2006, which remains one of my all-time festival favourites. This year, there was a bold reinterpretation that saw far more playful brush strokes, creating a more abstract version of the leopard, but one that seemed more playful, child-friendly and looking to the future. With it being Lili’s first year, it was understandably difficult to find time to catch her for a conversation on the direction of the festival, which I’m looking forward to doing in 2020

Locarno is a festival that has so much going for it, from the magnificent screenings in the Piazza Grande of more commercially minded films to the selection of more challenging fare in competition and elsewhere. Yet, as with so many other festivals, it has suffered from sales agents no longer using the film festivals as their primary location to source and sell movies. It will be interesting to see how Karlovy Vary and Locarno tackle the hurdles ahead, especially on the side of promoting cinema rather than movies. Festivals such as Locarno and Karlovy Vary have begun addressing this issue by being more supportive of a broader range of critical voices. Still, there must be more effort to make audiences feel part of the movie industry and encourage spectators to make bolder choices, not just at film festivals, but on a Friday night date.

Venice Film Festival 

Festival Director: Alberto Barbera

In the last couple of years, it’s been a surprise that the Venice Film Festival hasn’t just found a space to put the Netflix logo in the middle of the poster, given the preponderance of films from the streamer. I get it. Venice has been the primary beneficiary of the stance taken by Cannes on streaming platforms failure to heed cinematic windows, and they have reaped the red carpet rewards, with more stars in attendance and more media interest. It’s undeniable that Alberto Barbera has done a great job in making Venice a place to launch films, especially award contenders. Although it’s likely that for the second year in succession, unless Marriage Story does pull off an unlikely Best Film Oscar victory, that for the second year, the Oscar winner will not have debuted on the Lido. There is also a well-voiced and, quite frankly well-placed, concern about the dominance of English language films in the Venice competition. Again, the media and the trades desire to push films as Oscar contenders, that will result in them receiving advertising money from studios looking to win awards, is also part of the game. So it’s not in anyone’s interest to complain too much. It’s another example of how capitalism can limit choice, even in art.

Consequently, some great movies that could have done with the status push that can come with appearing in competition on the Lido get somewhat lost in the sidebar sections. I would like to see Venice be a bit bolder in its official selection. But if it’s glam you want, Barbera is your man. He is incredibly slick, has a big fun personality and could have been a character in La Dolce Vita. He is Italian Hollywood.

Even the choice of poster, which I love, reflects this debate. It’s a painted image of a couple being filmed kissing on the front of a boat. It’s a hint towards Titanic more than the refugee crisis, or the debate about how locals have turned against cruise ships, and the worry about climate change. The poster designed by Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti (he’s also created the 2000 edition Cannes poster) emphasizes the water that makes Venice so unique, and the painted image connects the film festival to La Biennale, of which it is part. I liked the poster, and yes, I liked the festival. 

Toronto Film Festival 2020

Artistic Director and Co-Head: Cameron Bailey

I must admit it’s only now that I’m writing this that I’m looking properly at the one-sheet of the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. The fall film festival season doesn’t allow for much navel-gazing. It’s the moment every year that I forget the sage advice from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off about life moving pretty fast and the need to take stock and look around once in a while. At Toronto, there is no such opportunity to stop. After the curated programmes of Venice and Telluride is the splurge of films in Canada.  The festival ends with the announcement of the winner of the Toronto audience award. Then we are all supposed to guess what will win the Oscars for the next few months. Of the Oscar frontrunners, only 1917 and The Irishman, which debuted shortly after at the New York Film Festival had not screened at this stag. It’s a shame that there is this enormous focus on what goes on in Hollywood in February because great stuff that happens in Toronto gets overlooked as a consequence.

One of which is the mentoring of film critics from underrepresented demographics. So at TIFF, I had the great honor of mentoring Valerie Complex at the festival. It was great to be able to meet up and hang with a young writer, who had exciting and differing viewpoints about films. She’s also making significant headway into the field of criticism, and has a prevalent Twitter account should you want to employ her. Together, we watched Anna Winocour’s space training epic Proxima, which we were still debating the next day. It was a film that grew on both of us, with Complex being the first to admit that the film was better than she initially thought. The joy of movies and not writing immediate tweets and reviews. As with many things in Toronto, it did feel like the critic mentoring scheme was another thing added, and need some refinement and more support from the festival, but it’s a great start for the initiative that I hope will grow. It came as no surprise to me that this initiative was taking place at a festival where Cameron Bailey is the head honcho. Despite all the talk around inclusion, white male critics still have so much more opportunity than women and people of color. And it’s no surprise that Bailey has overseen this initiative given his background. He’s a top programmer, and it won’t be long before his evolution at TIFF becomes a revolution. Of the big fall festivals, Toronto is the one making the most significant effort to bring about change not just to film, but also society.

But back to that poster, it’s a bit abstract and difficult to tell what it wants to be. Maybe I did see it during TIFF, everywhere, I just didn’t realise that it was the visual identity that was supposed to be representing the festival. Having said that, it kind of fits with some of my sentiments about a festival where a lot of films, seem to be put together abstractly, and where it doesn’t quite come together as a whole.

El Gouna Film Festival 

Festival Director: Ihtishal Al Timimi

I have a good rapport with Festival Director Ihtishal Al Timimi from his time at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Heading to Egypt meant that I had to miss San Sebastian, one of my favourite film festivals of the year, every year. I’m still crying, even if it was well worth the change of water and sun location. El Gouna is one of those friendly festivals, with a real hub where everyone mingles and chats about the movies that they have, or haven’t been watching. Its focus is on films from the Middle East and North Africa, and all of the key players from the region turn up, make plans and plot for the future. It comes a few weeks before Cairo and has a far more curated programme in which most films had a lot going for it. It was one of those festivals with not much to do in a resort late at night, so it was easy to mingle with filmmakers and festival programmers.

The poster is striking, albeit one more in keeping with it a perfume fragrance rather than a film festival. It shows a lady in a red dress walking across a stage from left to right, with the backdrop resembling a film reel. It wants to be modern but can’t help but feel retro. Much like this festival, the poser is a throwback to a bygone era, and that’s not always a bad thing. I’m hoping the festival moves dates to avoid a clash with San Sebastian in the future.

Zurich Film Festival 

Artistic Director: Karl Spoerri

Straight from El Gouna, I crashed into the Zurich Film Festival. This festival, with its green carpets, has been growing in stature every year. It’s the sister festival to San Sebastian and benefits from filmmakers coming straight from the Basque region to Switzerland. Zurich has improved a lot in recent years, but the selection has yet to catch fire. The big Swiss festival, Locarno, has a much more progressive and diverse programme. This year was a watershed for Zurich in many ways as it was the final year that co-founders Nadja Schildknecht (managing director) and Karl Spoerri (artistic director) were at the helm. They will be board members and advisors to the festival from here on in. Some months before the festival started, Zurich announced that leading film journalist Christian Jungen, the chief cultural editor at the German-language Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, had joined the Zurich Film Festival and would take over as Artistic Director in 2020. The appointment shows that good taste and a long career observing the film industry is still a way into festival curating (despite my earlier observation), especially for celebrations of cinema looking to be bolder in their selection.

One of the changes that can immediately be made, that would highlight a bit more risk-taking, is the creation of more captivating movie posters. I hope Jungen changes this up too. The Zurich Film Festival has a strong logo presence, but the desire to have a visual identity that appears on tickets, festival cars and stationery has led to the uninspiring and corporate logo dominating the festival poster. Where is the fun? The use of the logo on the poster is more bland corporate identity than art. Let’s face it, the formula for many film festivals is the same, you have films, industry talks and events with a bit of glamour on the carpet, it’s the other stuff that stokes the audience imagination that creates buzz. That starts with a good poster.

London Film Festival 

Festival Director Tricia Tuttle

The London Film Festival also went for the abstract approach to designing their visual identity. At first glance, it feels even more abstract than that in Toronto and less cohesive with it’s merging triangles and colours. The British Film Institute said when launching the poster: “Delivered in collaboration with creative agency DBLG, the design continues to develop iconography that was inspired by the beautiful NFT sign on our building at BFI Southbank, which was created in 1957 by Norman Engleback, and harks back to some of our classic Festival artwork from the 60s.” Hmm. If you say so! I’ve been to the BFI Southbank building countless times, and I’m at a loss about the beautiful NFT sign! 

London is my hometown film festival, so I guess that makes me harder on it, in the way that happens in families. It was the first year that Tricia Tuttle was officially in charge as festival head. The year before she was acting head, so 2019 wasn’t her first festival in the hot seat. Her promotion seemed to be an anointment rather than an appointment. I was surprised that there was not a more significant fanfare about the failure to open up the application process, but not too surprised. Tricia is very personable and is well-qualified for the role and probably would have got the job anyway. Also, it’s hard to imagine many clamoring for a position that involves programming a festival around talent that is coming to London for BAFTA screenings so that they can campaign for award season votes. London feels like a hostage to the awards season. 

That being said the clamoring for votes is terrific timing for the festival as it means it gets a host of talent to attend the festival because it’s the early stage of the awards campaigning when producers and studios are still unsure of what will emerge as the frontrunners. Consequently, it struggles to be a festival of discovery or even a festival of festivals, despite the introduction in recent years of competition segments. The surprising omission of Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms meant that this was the first time that I can remember that none of the Berlin, Cannes, or Venice Best Film winners played at the festival. (Someone will no doubt fact check this and prove me wrong!) 

As with any festival that has this many films and star names, the attention gets placed on the usual suspects. While film festivals are the life-blood of smaller independent films, it is harder than ever for them to emerge and break out into the mainstream. It’s a chicken and egg situation. London does try to make this push, but the sheer size and scale of the operation, and the need to get audiences through the door means it usually fails. How hard it is for films to get noticed is the struggle of our times, and it’s even harder persuading a distributor to release it after a festival appearance, which sounds odd given that more movies are coming out each week than ever before. London is just another festival that seems to favor the studios rather than the independents, as it’s easier to get bums on seats and ticket sales for blockbusters, even if the goal is to highlight smaller films and BFI funded films. However, I realize I know I’m more aware of the issues of the festival in regards to the distribution scene in the United Kingdom, as I’m much more often in contact with the local sales agents, distributors and exhibitors, which could be highlighting the problem. I’m sure the same story is being told elsewhere, but it is one that comes into sharp focus for me in London.

Lumière Film Festival 

Festival Director: Thierry Frémaux

When not presiding over Cannes, Thierry Frémaux is the director of the Institut Lumière, in Lyon. The museum and the festival are located within the grounds of the Lumière family house, around the site that the Lumière brothers shot one of their earliest works, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon. It’s often called the first motion picture ever made. The Institut Lumière was founded in 1982, and charged with promotion and preservation of film. Acclaimed French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier is President and Frémaux is its director. It’s a job that Frémaux clearly loves. One of my best experiences in a cinema was watching Frémaux live-present Lumière! A film he directed in 2016, made up of clips and reels of early French cinema. The witty and engaging commentary that he delivers as the reels play is extraordinary and full of passion.

A decade ago, Frémaux decided to launch the Lumière Film Festival, which focuses on the history of cinema with a line-up dedicated to restored prints and retrospectives. There are some new films, presented when one of the many luminaries who come through the festival give a masterclass. Top talent comes, because of the connection to Cannes. The masterclasses are extensive, intriguing and unique, some of the best of the year. Go on their website and listen to the podcasts if you have not done so already, you will not be disappointed. It’s impossible not to have a fabulous time when spent watching the works of Lina Wertmüller, treasures from pre-code Hollywood, and re-mastered classics including 5 Fingers by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Phillipe Garrel’s Liberty at Night.

The Festival poster is in keeping with the cinematic history theme. It’s a poster of Francis Ford Coppola directing on the set of Rumble Fish. It’s in black and white, of course, and chosen to celebrate the fact that Coppola was in town to pick up the festival’s big honour, Prix Lumière. Coppola had a great time. My particular highlight was seeing him introduce The Cotton Club. A couple of days later at The Godfather Trilogy all-nighter, I was struck by how The Cotton Club and The Godfather movies use entertainment as a mask for nefarious activities. It is a great film festival, and a joy to see cinema through the eyes of Frèmaux, in a way that is impossible at Cannes. Bravo!

Red Sea Industry Workshop

Red Sea Festival Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh

The decision to allow cinemas to open in Saudi Arabia after a 30-year ban has brought a vast new audience and film market hungry for cinema. Saudi Arabia, with a population of around 70 million, is full of cinephiles. The cinemas that have been opening have been booked out. There have also been several Saudi films that have started to appear at film festivals. Haifaa Al Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate vied for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The observational comedy Barakah Meets Barakah by Mahmoud Sabbagh is one of the most popular films from the region on Netflix. It is Sabbagh, a pioneer as a director, who is leading the drive to set up the Red Sea Film Festival, and also the Red Sea Lodge, an incubator for regional filmmakers that’s been set-up in collaboration with the Torino Film Lab. Two of the projects will win a production grant of $500,000. Next year, the Red Sea Film Festival will have its inaugural edition in March.

I jumped at the chance of going to the Old Town in Jeddah for the weekend to meet the filmmakers from the 12 projects selected for incubation. The filmmakers seemed invigorated at workshops where leading industry experts were discussing and dissecting their scripts for just over a week. I watched enthralled as one workshop leader used toys to highlight character journeys and some structural problems. Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed delivered a masterclass, where he discussed his career, including the adaptation of The Yacoubian Building. I was most impressed by the attendance, where the local community sat enthralled throughout and came armed with interesting and intelligent questions. It was a surprisingly more engaged audience than I had seen at other Middle East Film Festival over the years. Cairo usually being the best. 

There was no poster as such, although on the literature that was released, often the writing would come over a photographic image of the Unesco heritage site in Old Town Jeddah. It will be interesting to see what happens in March when the first edition launches. Will the festival be seen as Saudi filmmakers celebrating film for the first time in three decades or will it be clouded and judged by a geo-political narrative? Much will be in the eyes of the beholder.

Films From the South 

Festival Director: Lasse Skagen

I found myself in Norway again, this time in Oslo for Films From the South Film Festival, where I delivered a master class at the Sørfund Pitching Forum on “Festival and Press strategy” to Norwegian producers, international directors and producers. At Sørfund Pitching Forum six selected filmmakers from Latin America, Africa and Asia pitch their films that they hope will be backed by the Norwegian film fund in 2020. One of the great advantages of this fund is that you don’t have to invest the money in Norway, but you need to woo a local producer, who will then be your Norwegian co-production partner. The standard of filmmakers is extraordinary. Two of the filmmakers pitching at the event had won Lion of the Future awards, for best first film at the Venice Film Festival.

So I didn’t attend a film at the Films from the South Festival. This was a festival that for me was about helping filmmakers further their career. In Oslo, I was the one in control of the show, or more accurately the Powerpoint presentation. It’s great to talk to filmmakers directly in this way. The aim of the talk is to give them an idea of a strategy that might attract the media to their films, including which festivals they might get the best results at, and when or where they will need to employ publicists, find sales agents, or just do it on their own. It always amazes me that independent filmmakers have to be both architects and realtors, they plan, create and when they have finished their film, they then realise that it’s up to them to sell their films. Even if they have a great team behind them, or working with them, often festivals can be a confusing and demoralising place for a filmmaker. 

I looked through the Films from the South catalogue, and it was an impressive list of films that were screening, and Sørfund can be proud of the success the films they’ve funded have had, especially last year. The screenings highlight how there are so many great filmmakers around the world, and how much stimulating and fascinating work gets created each year. On the minus side, it’s demoralising to see so many amazing films get ignored. As for Lasse Skagen, who is also the Artistic Director at the Oslo Festival Agency, and has been at the Oslo Films from the South Foundation since 1997, our paths didn’t cross, but I admire his work. I was in contact with the SORFOND team. As for the poster for the festival, I have only just looked at it now, and have to say I like it. A rainbow of paint is segmented to show the sun high in the sky casting a shadow down to the sea, a clear distinction of the world between the North and the South. Although some may balk at my interpretation as it can also be looked at as a representation of privilege. 

Ajyal 2019 

Festival Director: Fatma Al Remaihi

If you have made it this far, I salute you. You must be as exhausted as I was by the start of December. For my last festival of the year, I was back in Doha at the Ajyal Film Festival. This time it didn’t seem like Fatma Al Remaihi and Hanaa Issa argued very much about the poster, as it was in the spirit of the posters from previous edition, featuring an explosion of colourful splintered geometric shapes creating a circle with no borders. The use of the white background, a change from the previously used black background, made it pop out even more.

It’s been a few years since I’d been to this festival, and I have to say I was very impressed with how much better it is now, then from it’s baby years. Ajyal’s excellent goal is to foster a love of cinema in children and young adults. There are 96 films screened from 39 countries, with the juries for these films made up of these young spectators, split up into various age groups. Each age group were given 4 to 6 movies to watch and judge. There were also workshops for the 400 jurors from 41 nationalities, including 40 international jurors. 

I delivered a quick talk on how to watch movies and criticize them. What was surprising was how little help they needed, and that they were open to the fact that film criticism can come in many forms these days, not just print, but also with memes, video streaming and just chatting to your friends over a milkshake. It was the perfect end to an exhausting year, and as I finally finish writing this up, I realise that I went to a hell of a lot of events last year, and it’s impressive how non-repetitive and unique each festival is.

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Death toll from coronavirus in care homes set to be published daily | London Evening Standard

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The death tolls for the number of people who have died in care homes after testing positive for coronavirus will now be announced daily, Matt Hancock has said.

The Government previously faced criticism over the fact the daily death toll figures provided by the Department of Health only include hospital fatalities.

To date, figures for deaths in care homes and in the community have been released weekly by the Office for National Statistics.

The news comes as the Care Quality Commission revealed today that 4,343 Covid-19  deaths occurred in care homes between April 10 to the 24.​

Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Hancock said: “From tomorrow we’ll be publishing not just the number of deaths in hospital each day but the number of deaths in care homes and the community too.”

Read more

The Health Secretary said that this was part of a Government effort to “bring as much transparency as possible” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added: “This will supplement the ONS and CQC weekly publication and all add to our understanding of how this virus is spreading day by day.”

The move will also “help inform the judgments that we make as we work to keep people safe,” Mr Hancock said.

Answering questions from journalists during the press briefing, he said the spread of Covid-19 through care homes is “absolutely a priority” for the Government.

The Health Secretary also revealed that after successful pilots, the government will be rolling out coronavirus testing to asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England as well as staff and patients in the NHS.

“This will mean that anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test whether they have symptoms or not,” he stated.

“I am determined to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable.”

Professor John Newton, co-ordinator of the national testing effort, addressing the spread of the virus in care homes, said: “We’ve done some intensive studies of infection in care homes.

“What that showed was that the presence of symptoms was not really a good marker in the care home setting, both among residents and staff, for the presence of the virus.

“There were significant numbers who were asymptomatic who had the virus and so we have massively increased the amount of testing available.

Listen to The Leader: Coronavirus Daily podcast

“We have now tested 25,000 residents in care homes and we are rolling out testing now to symptomatic and asymptomatic residents, as well as providing testing through the drive-thru centres and other means.”

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Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism | Stuff.co.nz

The man accused of the Christchurch mosque attacks has entered shock guilty pleas, bringing relief to survivors and victims’ families.

Amid extraordinary coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared via video-link in the High Court at Christchurch on Thursday morning and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act.

He’d previously pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to stand trial on June 2.

GEORGE HEARD/STUFF
Fifty-one people died as a result of the March 15, 2019 attack.

Tarrant, who wore a grey prisoner sweater, was largely silent and emotionless throughout the hearing. He sat alone in a white room with a grey door at Auckland Prison, Paremoremo, where he’s held in maximum security.

The terrorist’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, appeared via video-link from another court room.

Brenton Tarrant pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism via AVL in the Christchurch High Court.

The names of all 51 people killed were read to Tarrant, before he was asked how he pleaded to the murder charges.

He replied: “Yes, guilty.”

The same process was followed for the attempted murder charges.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Terrorist Brenton Tarrant pictured at his first court appearance, the day after the mosque shootings.

Justice Cameron Mander remanded Tarrant in custody, but has not yet set a date for sentencing, when the summary of facts would be made public.

Few people knew of the special hearing, which was only scheduled late Wednesday, on the eve of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Six New Zealand journalists attended. Also in court were the imams from both targeted mosques. An-nur (Al Noor) imam Gamal Fouda was visibly upset as the guilty pleas were entered.

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF
Mustafa Boztas still has a fragment of a bullet inside him.

The hearing concluded at 10.30am, but the judge suppressed the outcome for an hour to allow victims, who were unaware of the hearing, to be notified.

The decision to hold the hearing amid the national state of emergency was not made lightly.

Earlier in the week Tarrant indicated to counsel that he might change his pleas. A formal request was made on Wednesday that the matter be brought before the court.

DAVID WALKER/STUFF
Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur.

Mander said both the Crown and defence asked to have the hearing expedited, despite the severe health restrictions.

The courts were considered an essential public service that was able to deal with “priority proceedings without compromising people’s health”.

The judge said he felt the court had the capacity to safely hear the matter by limiting the number of people in court. In total, 17 people were present.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects on the last year following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It was regrettable the Covid-19 restrictions prevented victims from attending, he said, but the imams had been asked to be present to bear witness to the proceedings.

“It was my assessment that taking the defendant’s pleas at this time was the appropriate course in the circumstances,” Mander said.

“The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding, and I considered the need to take the opportunity to progress the matter was particularly acute coming as it has at a time when the risk of further delay as a result of Covid-19 was looming as realistic possibility.”

Mander said the defendant would not be sentenced before the court returned to normal operations.

The defendant had been remanded to a nominal date of May 1. It was hoped a sentencing date would be confirmed in the interim.

“It is fully anticipated that all who wish to attend court for the sentencing hearing will be able to do so in person.”  

On March 15 last year, Tarrant drove from his Dunedin home to Christchurch with an arsenal of guns and ammunition he’d amassed since moving from Australia to New Zealand in 2017.

The white supremacist entered Masjid An-nur (also known as the Al Noor Mosque) on Deans Ave as Friday prayers were beginning, about 1.40pm, and opened fire – killing and wounding dozens of people.

He then drove across town to the Linwood Mosque where he continued his shooting spree.

Tarrant was arrested a short time later after his car, a gold Subaru Outback, was rammed off the road by two police officers on Brougham St as he tried to make his way to a third target, though to be a mosque in Ashburton, where he planned to carry out another attack.

When police searched the vehicle they found several guns and petrol bombs.

NZ’S WORST MASS SHOOTING

In total, 51 people were killed in the terrorist attack, the worst mass shooting by an individual in New Zealand history.

Tarrant was the first person to be charged under NZ’s Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur, said he could not understand what caused Tarrant to change his plea.

“I’m both shocked and relieved. Shocked at the sudden change in plea, relieved that my family and I, along with other victims won’t have to relive it all through the courts.”

Muslim Association of Canterbury spokesman Tony Green said his immediate reaction was one of enormous relief and great gratitude.

“I think the victims will feel a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Our position has always been to let justice take its course, but a trial would have put a lot of pressure on our families. If you look at the anguish caused by the trial of Grace Millane’s killer you can see how bad it would be for 51 families.”

Mustafa Boztas, who lay on the ground inside the Masjid An-nur with a bullet in his leg, pretending to be dead, said from Turkey he always knew Tarrant would be found guilty. 

“I feel he basically played with our minds and emotionally upset us more for no reason.”

Boztas said he would have stayed in the country instead of going overseas if he’d known Tarrant was going to plead guilty. 

“While it can’t undo the damage it has brought upon our community and country, it gives me hope that this help bring not only justice but some closure to those touched by this event.

“To the families, I hope this brings you peace, and a sense that love can conquer hate. While this closes the criminal proceedings for the shootings, please know there is still a long way to go in recovery for some of us, so thank you for your continued support.”

Yasir Amin, whose father 67-year-old Muhammad Amin Nasir was shot in the back by the gunman shooting from his car, said the guilty pleas were good news.

“It’s good to avoid a trial because we would be reminded of everything, every day of the six week trial. We’ve avoided that mental torture and we’re not in a situation where the outcome is not 100 per cent sure.”

Nasir was to undergo another operation on Monday but the operation was postponed due to Covid-19 measures. He had spent two months in hospital after the shootings and had another 20-day stay in December.

“He is now doing well. He goes for walks and eats well.”

Just about every organ in his father’s body except his heart had been damaged by the shotgun pellets, Amin said.

Nasir was shot about 200 metres from the mosque on Deans Ave. The gunman drove past Amin and his father, who were walking to the mosque along the footpath, when he aimed a shotgun at them from his car. Both ran for their lives but Nasir was shot. Their plight was captured by a motel CCTV camera. 

‘HE’S GOT TO PAY THE TIME’

Tarrant’s grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, had no idea about the plea until called by Stuff.

“I feel sorry he did the crime, but he’s got to pay the time now.”

She declined to comment further.

Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso said support was ongoing for hundreds of victims who still need help coping with the trauma of the event and rebuilding their lives.

“We’re pleased victims no longer have to face the trauma of the trial.”

The victims had shown remarkable courage and resilience in the face of a heart-breaking, shocking and senseless tragedy, Tso said.

“They have our utmost respect and promise that we will be here for them for as long as they need us.”

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the pleas were a “significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days”.

“I want to acknowledge the victims, their families and the community of Christchurch – the many lives that were changed forever. They have inspired all of us to be a kind and more tolerant community.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would provide some relief to the many people whose lives were “shattered” on March 15.

“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial,” she said.

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Mike Shildt Cardinals plan for coronavirus | St. Louis Cardinals

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JUPITER, Fla. — As every club adjusts its schedule and figures out the next steps after Major League Baseball decided to cancel Spring Training games and delay the start of the 2020 regular season, the Cardinals’ message on Friday was to remain flexible.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We know the season is going to be, at a minimum of, [a] two-week delay. And we’re just trying to get a handle on what that looks like as far as just what’s next.”

The team held a meeting Friday morning with staff and players to discuss what comes next, even as plans change “hour by hour,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. The Cardinals opened their training room and weight room to players who wanted to use either, but cancelled all baseball activities as they awaited instruction from Major League Baseball.

During a Friday conference call with media, Mozeliak said he requested that players remain close to Jupiter until clubs get clear guidance on the next steps.

“The most fair answer, the most current answer, is we just don’t know,” Mozeliak said about what those next steps are. “This is a very fluid situation. What we know now versus what we knew 24 hours ago has changed quite a bit. What we’re going to know later today or tonight or tomorrow is going to be different than what I know now.

“And so, the best response is that we have to remain nimble, flexible and then make sure that the health of our players, their families and our staff is on the foremost of what we’re thinking about.”

The Cardinals’ complex will remain open to players this weekend should they want to work out independently or if they need to receive treatment, and Shildt said that will remain the case until instructed by the Commissioner’s Office.

Shildt is meeting with his staff to lay out a plan for the multiple scenarios that could happen with the delayed season to make sure they will be ready for anything. While pitchers’ throwing schedules are unknown right now, Shildt said he’s encouraging pitchers to continue to play catch and stay in shape until they get more clarity on timeframes.

The biggest challenge in creating those plans is the unknown, with no sense yet of when Opening Day will be.

“It’s hard to plan with the unknown, but at least create a structure that we can work off of and then narrow the structures down as things start to become more clear as we go,” Shildt said. “One of the things we discussed is making sure we’re doing this together and we’re communicating. And we’re going to be — we have to be — fluid. That’s going to be crucial.”

Here are some other things that were discussed Friday morning:

• Shildt said the tone of the clubhouse meeting Friday was “professional,” as players process what the Opening Day delay means. Many questions were asked, even if the team didn’t have all the answers at this point.

• Minor League players, who just reported to camp this week, were told to remain at the hotel and await instruction Friday.

“Had we brought everybody in today, for example, we would have been over 300 people in this building,” Mozeliak said. “And we thought it was in the best interest of everybody just to keep all the Minor League players and staff back at the hotel, and then we’ll reassess today, tomorrow, day by day, hour by hour.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.

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February 2020 restaurant inspections in Livingston County

February 2020 restaurant inspections in Livingston County

Jennifer Timar
Livingston Daily
Published 6:30 AM EST Mar 3, 2020

Of the Livingston County restaurants inspected in February 2020, priority and priority foundation violations were found at 29 locations. 

Each month, the Livingston County Health Department inspects some businesses and schools that serve food. 

The Livingston Daily publishes reports on the most serious violations — ones that could lead to contamination of food or increase the risk of transmitting a foodborne illness — as well as corrective measures taken.

Four priority violations were found at:

Hartland Sports Center

2755 Arena Drive, Hartland Township

There were three spray bottles not labeled as to their contents. The person in charge labeled the bottles properly at the time of the inspection. There was no soap at the hand sink. Soap was available upon the inspector’s return. There were no paper towels at the hand sink. A new shelf was not allowing staff to open the dispenser and refill. Upon the inspector’s return, there was a dispenser available and paper towels were stocked in the dispenser. There was no chlorine test kit available. The facility decided to use quaternary sanitizer instead.

Horseshoe Lounge

10100 W. Grand River Ave., Fowlerville

The dish machine was not dispensing the proper amount of sanitizer. It was suspected that the product was expired. A new container of sanitizer was added and proper sanitizer concentrations were restored. The hand sink in the main kitchen was soiled with food residue. Coleslaw and ranch dressing prepared on Feb. 3 were labeled with a discard date of Feb. 20. Foods that are time and temperature controlled for safety cannot be held more than seven days. A proper discard date label was attached at the time of the inspection. No detergent was being dispensed in the dish machine because the container was empty. A new detergent container was added at the time of the inspection.

RELATED: 15 most common restaurant violations in Livingston County

Three priority violations were found at:

440 W. Main Street, Brighton

A pan of cooked chicken wings was holding at 50 degrees in the grill line prep cooler. A container of coleslaw was holding at 46 degrees. Upon further investigation, other items were also holding in the 41-to-50 degree range. All refrigeration equipment was working properly. It was suspected that the food items were left out at room temperature during the prep process. Some of the items are transferred from the basement walk-in unit on rolling carts. Those items may have been sitting on the cart for an extended period of time at room temperature. A tall plastic container of grits was cooling in an ice bath. The product was placed into an ice bath approximately 20 minutes earlier and was still approximately 200 degrees. The grits were transferred to a large shallow metal pan for proper cooling. Short ribs prepared two days prior to the inspection were cooled in a deep pan. No temperature violations were confirmed, but this method will not likely ensure proper cooling. Two refillable spray bottles containing cleaning chemicals were not labeled. The bottles were labeled at the time of inspection.

An infographic shows proper temperatures food should be held at to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
Livingston County Health Department

Great Lakes Family Restaurant

963 S. Grand Ave., Fowlerville

Home-prepared foods were being stored in the walk-in cooler. The items included several 5-gallon buckets of cut tomatoes in a vinegar solution, which were prepared by a family member. The items were removed at the time of inspection. A pie cooler was holding food at 50 degrees. Cream pies and cheesecake were discarded. The pie cooler has been taken out of service and a new unit was ordered. Cream pies are now stored in another unit. A refillable spray bottle containing a chemical degreasing solution did not have a label. Proper chemical labeling was observed upon the inspector’s return.

Jimmy John’s

1504 Lawson Drive, Howell

An employee touched the computer ordering screen while wearing food handling gloves. They returned to prep food without changing the glove. Several employees did not wash their hands before wearing new food handling gloves. Both hand sinks were blocked by equipment. One hand sink was being used to store a water pitcher for the bread-making equipment. The other hand sink contained a sanitizer bottle.  The items were removed at the time of the inspection.

8515 W. Grand River Ave., Brighton

There were multiple employees improperly washing their hands. One employee washed their hands less than the required time and proceeded to use their pants to dry their hands. Another employee washed their hands less than the required time and did not dry their hands. Multiple employees changed soiled gloves but did not wash their hands properly as there were no paper towels to be found at any of the hand sinks in the kitchen. There was shredded lettuce on the line without time stamps. There were no paper towels at either hand sink in the kitchen. An employee was sent to the store during the inspection.

Mimi’s Diner

5589 E. M-36, Pinckney

There was rice in the steam table that had been placed there about an hour and 45 minutes prior. It was at 120 degrees. The steam table should not be used to reheat foods because it takes too long. It was reheated properly to over 165 degrees in the microwave oven and placed back into the steam table. The chlorine sanitizer concentration in the dish machine was too high. It was adjusted. Foods were being improperly cooled in the walk-in cooler. Mashed potatoes and rice were in containers 6-to-8 inches deep with the plastic wrap slightly uncovered on the edge. The rice was already cold, but the potatoes had been placed there an hour and half before and were at 100 degrees. They were moved to uncovered shallow pans. Sausage patties were being cooled in a covered shallow pan and were at 67 degrees. The cover was removed so that the heat was not trapped in. 

Old Hickory Bar

7071 Bennett Lake Road, Fenton

The cooler next to the fryer was holding food at 49 degrees. Deli meat, sliced tomatoes, burger patties and dressing were discarded. Upon the inspector’s return, there were no items in the cooler at time of inspection, but the ambient air read a proper 40 degrees. The in-use knives and utensils were being switched out every shift, which is typically eight hours. The in-use utensils that are in contact with food that is time and temperature controlled for safety need to be washed, rinsed and sanitized at least every four hours. Raw beef was stored in the walk-in cooler above bottled drinks. It was moved away from ready-to-eat food.

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Two priority violations were found at:

Jersey Giant Subs

3813 Tractor Drive, Howell

Tomatoes and lettuce had been put out at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively, but were not marked to indicate the time they were removed from the cooler and the time they must be discarded (4 hours later). They were marked during the inspection. The hand sink in the dish-washing area was blocked by buckets and a cart. They were moved.

Jets Pizza

120 W. Highland Road, Suite 800, Howell

A couple a bottles of cleaner were stored on the prep table near food. They were moved to the chemical storage room. Always store chemicals away from food and clean equipment. There were a couple spray bottles of sanitizer missing labels. They were labeled during the inspection.

Mary’s Fabulous Chicken & Fish

2429 E. Grand River Ave., Howell

A cook came into work, took an order, put food handling gloves on and made the food without washing his hands first. He washes his hands. Several onions in a bin in the walk-in cooler had white mold growth. All of the onions were discarded.

Snappers on the Water

6484 Bennett Lake Road, Fenton

There was a container of moldy food dated from December. It was discarded. There were some cans that were leaky and rusted. They were set aside to be returned.

St. John Catholic Church

2099 Hacker Road, Howell

The two-door cooler in the kitchen is holding food at 60 to 65 degrees. Sour cream, yogurt, milk and sauerkraut with sausage were discarded. There was a large pot of tomato sauce that was improperly cooled in a large container in the cooler. The cooler was broken. The sauce was at the same temperature as everything else (60 to 65 degrees). It was discarded.

Tubby’s Sub Shop

9912 E. Grand River Ave., Ste 500, Brighton

A food handler used gloves that touched raw meat to begin to assemble ready-to-eat sandwich ingredients. She was stopped and told that she must wash her hands and put a new pair of gloves on before touching ready-to eat food. She washed her hands and donned a new pair of gloves. The solution used to wipe down the cutting board contained too much chlorine. Water was added.

One priority violation was found at:

3949 W. Grand River Ave., Howell

A dicer in the cleaned dish area contained food particles. It was cleaned.

Brighton Coffeehouse and Theater

306 W. Main Street, Brighton

The automatic dish machine was calibrated for chlorine sanitizer, but the unit contained quaternary sanitizer. It resulted in sanitizer concentrations that were too weak. The quaternary sanitizer was removed and replaced with proper chlorine sanitizer. Proper sanitizer levels were restored.

Buffalo Wild Wings

9745 Village Place Blvd., Brighton

Foods in a prep cooler were holding 50 degrees in the upper compartment and 45 degrees in the lower compartment. Large metal containers of ranch and blue cheese dressings were holding at 50 degrees. The products were stored on ice, but the amount of ice was not adequate. Ranch and blue cheese dressings, cut tomatoes, cut lettuce, salsa and dairy products were discarded. Upon the inspector’s return, the cooler was repaired and a larger, taller ice bath was being used to hold dressings. 

Community Congregational U.C.C.

125 E. Unadilla Street, Pinckney

The dish machine was out of chlorine sanitizer. The container was tipped to the side to make sure that the machine was pulling the sanitizer, which it was. The bleach will be replaced before the next event.

Emagine Theater

10495 Hartland Square Road, Hartland Township

The dish machine was getting stuck in a cycle where it did not activate the hot water sanitizing cycle. It was repaired.

Hungry Howies

2560 E. Grand River Ave., Howell

An open container of grilled cooked chicken and sausage had a use-by date that had passed. It was discarded.

Jimmy John’s

750 W. Grand River Ave., Brighton

The facility uses both chlorine and quaternary sanitizers. However, only quaternary test strips were available. Chlorine test strips were purchased.

Mt. Brighton Resort

4141 Bauer Road, Brighton

No paper towels were available at the hand sink at Bruin’s Bar. Towels were provided at the time of inspection.

6995 W. Grand River Ave., Brighton

Hot dogs in a reach cooler were kept past their use-by date. They were discarded.

Stout Irish Pub

125 E. Grand River Ave., Brighton

Cooked cabbage, cooked pasta noodles and house-made pizza sauce were expired. The items were discarded.

Sunrise Family Diner

2375 E. Grand River Ave., Howell

A line cook cracked eggs, changed food handling gloves and put a new pair of gloves on before touching ready-to-eat food without washing their hands. 

Sushi Zen

114 W. Grand River Ave., Brighton

A staff member touched dirty dishes while loading them into the dish machine. He began to put clean dishes away without washing his hands.

Wendy’s

1022 S. Michigan Ave., Howell

An employee with painted fingernails was performing food-related tasks such as scooping fries without gloves on. 

Whispering Pines Golf Club

2500 Whispering Pines Drive, Pinckney

The interior of the ice machine had some mold growth. During the golf season it is routinely cleaned, but the club had not been open for a while. 

Wong Express House

9912 E. Grand River Ave., Brighton

A slicer had an accumulation of dried food on the back of the blade. It was taken apart to be cleaned. Grease accumulation was found in between and around equipment.

READ MORE LIVINGSTON COUNTY RESTAURANT INSPECTIONS:

Contact Livingston Daily reporter Jennifer Timar at 517-548-7148 or at jtimar@livingstondaily.com. Follow her on Facebook @Jennifer.Timar99 and Twitter @JenTimar99.

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Worshippers at the Al Noor mosque photographed in terror threat | Stuff.co.nz

Worshippers at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch were photographed in an apparent terror threat, two weeks before the first anniversary of the March 15 attack in which 51 worshippers were gunned down. 

The threat was issued on Sunday night on an encrypted messaging app, accompanied by a photo of a masked man sitting in a car outside the mosque. 

A police spokeswoman has confirmed an investigation into the threat is underway. 

Christchurch’s Al Noor was one of two mosques targeted in a racially motivated mass-shooting on March 15, 2019. The alleged terrorist, an Australian national, awaits a trial due to begin in June. 

Police and St John staff outside the Al-Noor mosque after the March 15, 2019 terror attack. (file photo)

Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge last month warned that some Kiwis have been inspired by the March 15 terror attack, and monitoring such people had been difficult.

The threat and accompanying photo was posted anonymously to more than 2000 followers on a messaging channel on the encrypted communication app Telegram.

Do you know more? Email thomas.manch@stuff.co.nz

The image shows a man wearing dark sunglasses and a balaclava printed with an image of a human skull. Through a car window the front of the Al Noor mosque can be seen. 

In the background, four people are visible at the entrance of the mosque. 

The message attached, written in both English and Russian, implies the people at the “same mosque” would be greeting each other for the “last time”. A gun emoji, or symbol, is also used in the message. 

The image was posted on a messaging channel dedicated to celebrating the March 15 terror attack. 

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Islamic Women’s Council national co-ordinator Anjum Rahman said police were already conducting enquiries into the threat.

Police were aware of the threat and enquiries were ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

Such threats to the community were taken “extremely seriously”. The spokeswoman declined to answer questions about security arrangements for the anniversary of the March 15 terror attacks. 

An SIS spokesman declined to comment on the specific threat.  

Islamic Women’s Council national co-ordinator Anjum Rahman​ said she was told of the threat early on Monday morning, and notified both mosque leaders and senior police officers. 

“[The police] were already aware and were looking into that threat,” she said. 

“There have been threats, more oblique threats, to other mosques in the last six to eight months or so. We know there is ongoing activity, I would just say the public should be vigilant and report anything that they see as suspicious.”

She said it would be helpful to have a visible police presence at the mosques as the anniversary of the attack approached.

Al Noor imam Gamal Fouda has been contacted for comment. 

In February, Kitteridge said New Zealand’s spy agencies were investigating some 30 to 50 people for a potential terror risk at any one time. 

She said it was challenging to monitor such people as they “tend to live in encrypted chat rooms” — such as Telegram. 

Kitteridge would not say if any specific terror plans had been intercepted.

Messages on the Telegram app first alerted the public to the arrest of a 27-year-old soldier connected to far-Right groups, in November 2019. 

The soldier now awaits a military trial, facing charges of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose and for disclosing information that prejudiced the security or defence of New Zealand. 

Authorities across western nations continue to grapple with the terror threat posed by adherents to far-Right and white supremacist ideologies. 

The director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, last week told reporters that small cells of such extremists posed a growing and enduring threat.

Days earlier, in the United States, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security increased the terror threat level regarding homegrown white supremacists to “high”. 

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Twitter Acquires Chroma Labs, the Team Behind Stories Editing App ‘Chroma Stories’ | Social Media Today

We could soon have a whole new range of visual tools for Twitter

The company has this week announced its acquisition of Chroma Labs, the team behind the Chroma Stories app, which provides a range of stylistic frames and filter options for your Stories content.

As per Chroma Labs:

“When we founded Chroma Labs in 2018, we set out to build a company to inspire creativity and help people tell their visual stories. During the past year, we’ve enabled creators and businesses around the world to create millions of stories with the Chroma Stories app. We’re proud of this work, and look forward to continuing our mission at a larger scale – with one of the most important services in the world.”

To be clear, Chroma Stories is not a platform in itself, but a supplementary app which enables users to create better-looking Stories that they can then post to Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. 

The company was founded by former Instagram product lead John Barnett, who, among other projects, invented Instagram’s popular ‘Boomerang’ video looping tool. That inside knowledge has enabled Chroma to build highly effective visual additions and features, which are perfectly aligned with rising Stories use.

So what will Twitter be looking to do with the app?

As noted by Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour:

Thrilled to welcome the amazing @Chroma_Labs team including @picturejohn, @alexli, @joshuacharris to @Twitter.

They’ll join our product, design, and eng teams working to give people more creative ways to express themselves on Twitter ????????

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz)

What ‘more creative ways to express themselves’ means, exactly, is anyone’s guess, but it could mean that Twitter is looking at its own variation of Stories, or that it will be adding more visual options to enhance your tweet presentation in the near future.

With respect to Twitter Stories, that could definitely be a possibility. Twitter is now one of the only platforms without a Stories option, and with its renewed focus on context, and maximizing user engagement, you would think that a Twitter Stories tool, if done right, could hold significant appeal.

Twitter’s already the home for real-time updates, and a Stories feed could add to this – while it could also provide what Twitter’s ‘Moments’ tool was never quite able to, albeit in a different way.

Moments was Twitter’s mobile-focused, vertically presented, quick catch-up tool, which Twitter originally pitched as “the best of what’s happening on Twitter in an instant”.

These days, Twitter’s bigger push is on increasing personal relevance – so what if, instead of “the best of what’s happening” across all of Twitter, you got a Stories feed instead, which would essentially be a feed of what’s happening among the people and profiles that you’ve chosen to follow.

Twitter could even look to add the tab into the bottom function bar, replacing where Moments once was. Given the popularity of Stories on other platforms, that could work.

It’s not definitively where Twitter is headed, but it makes sense that Twitter would at least look at its options on this front.

Outside of this, Twitter could be looking to simply improve on its current – somewhat limited – visual options. 

As an example, last September, Twitter provided users with the capacity to rearrange their attached tweet images via a simple drag and drop process.

It’s all about the details. Now you can rearrange your photos while writing a Tweet. pic.twitter.com/mllwmPb6dx

— Twitter (@Twitter)

You couldn’t do this before. So, on Snapchat, for comparison, you can take a photo of your face, cut out a section of it, re-paste it a million times over into the frame and create a unique collage, which you can then add filters to, morph into something different via AR tools, and upload in different formats, all within the app. In Twitter, you can now re-arrange images.

Yeah, it probably does need an upgrade on this front.

Either way, with the Chroma crew joining Twitter’s Conversations division, you can expect some significant visual enhancements for your tweets, which could be a major change for the app.

It’ll take some time, but it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with. 

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Colorado ‘Psychic Kay’ killer files murder case appeal

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‘Psychic Kay’ killer files appeal claiming attorneys failed to inform him of plea offer


Sady Swanson


Fort Collins Coloradoan
Published 11:25 PM EST Jan 31, 2020
John Marks Jr. (right) is serving 48 years to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murdering his wife of 20 years, Kathy Adams, 57, in 2010.
Fort Collins Coloradoan archive

The man sentenced to prison for the murder of the 57-year-old Fort Collins woman known as “Psychic Kay” has filed an appeal claiming his attorneys failed to properly advise him of potential plea agreements.

John Marks Jr., now 57, was found guilty of second-degree murder and sexual assault in the 2010 death of his wife, Kathy Adams, known as “Psychic Kay.” He was sentenced to 48 years to life in 2012 and is currently serving his sentence at the Fremont Correctional Facility in Canon City. 

Adams’ body was recovered from a ravine off U.S. Highway 36 near the Boulder-Larimer County line in October 2010, according to Coloradoan archives. Marks was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder about two weeks after her body was found. Initial arrest documents indicated that Marks was abusive and Adams had planned to escape to Atlanta and live with family before she was killed.

Marks pleaded not guilty in his initial case and has maintained his innocence, according to his previous defense attorney. 

Online court records indicate documents were filed to reopen the case in 2015, and the first petition was filed May 2017. The appeal was filed under Colorado criminal procedure that allows for a request for post-conviction relief if attorneys provided ineffective counsel during a criminal case. If approved, the judge could order a new trial or a modified sentence. 

Cold cases: There are 1,700 cold cases in Colorado. Could genealogy sites be the key to cracking them?

On Friday afternoon, Marks appeared in a Larimer County courtroom, where his attorney argued to 20th Judicial District Judge Nancy Salomone that Marks’ criminal defense attorneys failed to properly inform him of an offered plea agreement during his 2012 trial.

During Friday’s hearing, the defense attorneys and prosecutors from the 2012 trial denied the assertion that a midtrial plea offer — or that any formal plea offer — was made in the case. 

Defense attorney Derek Samuelson was appointed to be Marks’ attorney about a year into the case — in fall 2011 — after the public defender’s office removed themselves due to a conflict of interest, Samuelson testified Friday. 

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After his appointment, Samuelson said he reached out to now Second Assistant District Attorney Emily Humphrey, the lead prosecutor on Marks’ case, to suggest a potential plea offer of manslaughter instead of second-degree murder. Humphrey refused the suggestion, Samuelson said.

Shortly after that exchange, Samuelson said he met Humphrey and now Larimer County District Attorney Cliff Riedel, Humphrey’s supervisor at the time, at a coffee shop in September 2011 to discuss the potential for a plea offer.

An email sent after that meeting from Samuelson to another defense attorney assisting with the case — Lisabeth Castle — said the district attorney suggested they may be open to an offer involving Marks’ pleading guilty to second-degree murder in a heat of passion, which could have led to a lesser sentence.

The discussion was not an official offer, Samuelson said.

Per the district attorney’s office policy, according to testimony by Humphrey and Riedel on Friday, to minimize harm to the victims or the family in a sexual assault or murder case, prosecutors might tell a defense attorney what they might consider a fair plea offer first. Then, if the defendant comes back with interest in taking a plea offer similar to what they discussed, that’s when the prosecution would bring the idea of a plea agreement to the victim or the victim’s family, not before that point. 

“There was absolutely no formal offer made to (Samuelson),” Humphrey testified Friday.

After having the initial discussion with Humphrey and Riedel, Samuelson said he went to the Larimer County Jail to speak with Marks. Because pleading guilty to second-degree murder in a heat of passion would still likely mean decades in prison, Samuelson said Marks declined to move further with it.

“What he told me was motivating him was innocence,” Samuelson said.

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Castle also testified that no midtrial offer was conveyed to her, and she was not aware of one being conveyed to Samuelson or directly to Marks. 

“And (if we did receive a midtrial offer) I think that’s something we would’ve encouraged him to take,” Castle testified.

The appeal hearing was initially scheduled to finish Friday afternoon, but attorneys and the judge agreed that a second day of testimony is necessary. Because of scheduling conflicts, a date for the second day of the hearing has not yet been scheduled. 

Samuelson, who was not able to finish testifying Friday afternoon, will resume his testimony at that hearing.

Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.

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