Month: January 2019

Female directors of colour finding a spotlight at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah — In the ecosystem of who directs Hollywood’s top-grossing films, women of colour are the rarest kind.

But the 2019 Sundance Film Festival is proving to be a referendum on the dismal industry statistics . And the positive reception to and pricey acquisitions of films like Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light” (bought by New Line for $15 million) and Nisha Ganatra’s “Late Night” (Amazon purchased for $13 million) is, at the very least, promising.

In the U.S. dramatic competition alone, where more than half of the 16 features included were directed by women, three films by women of colour have stood out: Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” Minhal Baig’s “Hala” and Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency.” Each was written by their director and offer boldly personal stories that have captivated critics, audiences and industry dealmakers.

“The Farewell,” perhaps already one of the best known of the films that debuted at Sundance, is based on Wang’s real-life experience when she and her Chinese-American family staged a fake wedding as an excuse to visit her terminally-ill grandmother in China, who was totally unaware of her prognosis. Awkwafina stars in the film, which was bought by A24 for $6 million.

Wang, who had previously directed the well-received “Posthumous,” took a somewhat roundabout approach to getting her “unconventional” film made.

She wrote it as a short story and submitted it to “This American Life,” where it played and got the attention of a lot of producers. Big Beach Films, the shop behind “Little Miss Sunshine” decided to make it.

“I’m very encouraging of filmmakers starting out for different opportunities to create (intellectual property) so that they can get the story locked down in some form,” Wang said. “Then they have ownership of it and it becomes easier to take that to pitch.”

Baig, who also wrote a personal story based on her life as a Muslim teenager in America during a difficult time at home, had a similarly circuitous route to making “Hala.” First she had to overcome the idea that she’d be satisfied in a more stable, creative-adjacent job as a development executive.

“The only way I could do that was to just go do it,” Baig said. “No one was going to give me permission. I just had to put my foot down and say ‘I don’t want to be a development executive, I just want to be an artist.’”

Then she had to prove herself as a filmmaker.

She tested the waters by making a crowd-funded short version of “Hala” and putting it online where the response was “incredible.” With a proof of audience and a script that made it onto the 2016 Black List, an influential collection of unproduced scripts, she was then on the radar of executives and financiers.

With “Blockers” star Geraldine Viswanathan in the title role, “Hala” has been one of the breakouts of the festival. Apple purchased it for an undisclosed amount.

“Clemency” writer and director Chukwu also spent years trying to make her film about the psychological and emotional toll taken on a death row prison warden, played by Alfre Woodard. Following the execution of Troy Davis in 2011, Chukwu started a four-year process of deep research, including interviewing death row lawyers and former wardens, and even working as a volunteer in clemency cases and teaching in a woman’s prison.

She found a supporter in producer Bronwyn Cornelius and they searched for funding for three years, encountering some reluctance because of the subject matter and Chukwu being a first-time director. “Clemency” has been widely praised at the festival, where some have declared that it will earn Woodard an Oscar nomination. It is still looking for distribution.

All are aware of the position they’re in as filmmakers who happen to also be women and minorities at this moment in Hollywood, where despite all the attention, where they remain vastly underrepresented. Among the 1,200 top films of the past 12 years, female directors of colour are in the single digits, according to USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative.

“Women of colour have been working in Hollywood for a very long time and making their own movies,” Baig said. “(But) it’s clear that the numbers have not changed very much. Hollywood has greater awareness but they haven’t followed through on what they’ve learned.”

Wang is a filmmaker first, but said she feels “a sense of responsibility just because there are still so few of us. It’s hard not to personalize it when you see the numbers.”

She hopes that aspiring filmmakers “embrace their uniqueness,” admitting that it took her a long time to do that.

Perhaps uniqueness is the key word. All three filmmakers told personal stories that no one else could have.

“I just hope that more of us get the access and platform to get to tell the stories we want to tell — stories that include protagonists who are women, or women of colour who have narratives that aren’t solely defined by their race and gender,” Chukwu said. “Race and gender are not a genre. They are not a story. They are not an emotional arc. We are human beings with full interior worlds. Put them in an interesting situation. Make them a warden of a prison as they prepare to execute someone on death row. Now that’s a damn good perspective.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press




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source https://toronto.citynews.ca/2019/01/31/female-directors-of-colour-finding-a-spotlight-at-sundance/

By The Wall of Law January 31, 2019 Off

092918-1019169704

092918-1019169704

Charlie Sheen has narrowly escaped being homeless after failing to pay the mortgage on his Beverly Hill mansion, RadarOnline.com reported.

The disgraced former Two and a Half Men star allegedly owes $86,091 on his ritzy seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom crib, putting the property in pre-foreclosure.

The HIV-positive actor — who was once worth $125 million — reportedly wrote a check on Jan. 10 to cover six months of missed payments.

Sheen, 53, has been trying to unload the $8.5 million home for months, but hasn’t had any takers.

Once the highest-paid star on TV, Sheen pocketed a cool $1.8 million per episode for his now-cancelled sitcom.

But after admitting he shelled out hundreds of thousands in hush money to former lovers, Sheen claimed he was in “dire” straits and even got his monthly child support payments for his two kids with ex Denise Richards slashed by the court.

“Since June 2016, my income has changed significantly,” Sheen wrote in his appeal to pay less. “I have been unable to find steady work and have been blacklisted from many aspects of the entertainment industry.

“All of this has resulted in a significant reduction in my earnings.”

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By The Wall of Law January 31, 2019 Off

Robert Jennings

Robert Jennings

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A 61-year-old Texas inmate was executed Wednesday evening for killing a Houston police officer more than three decades ago.

Robert Jennings received lethal injection for the July 1988 fatal shooting of Officer Elston Howard during a robbery at an adult bookstore that authorities said was part of a crime spree.

As witnesses filed into the death chamber, Jennings asked a chaplain standing next to him if he knew the name of the slain officer. The chaplain didn’t appear to respond, and a prison official then told the warden to proceed with the punishment.

“To my friends and family, it was a nice journey,” Jennings said in his final statement. “To the family of the police officer, I hope y’all find peace. Be well and be safe and try to enjoy life’s moments, because we never get those back.”

Outside the prison, more than 100 officers stood vigil. And a motorcycle club that supports police revved their engines, with the roar from the bikes audible in the chamber.

Jennings was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m., 18 minutes after the drug started. He became the first inmate put to death this year both in the U.S. and in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.

“Justice has been rendered and my family can finally have the closure we deserve,” Michael Agee, Howard’s nephew and a current Houston officer, said after watching Jennings die.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, asked about the 30-plus years between the crime and the punishment, said he thought “justice delayed is, to an extent, an injustice continued.”

“But when the state takes a life, there has to be a process,” Acevedo said. “In this case, the day of reckoning is here. It’s a solemn occasion. For us it’s a celebration of a life well-lived by Officer Howard. We’re a family. That’s why we’re here.”

His attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his execution, arguing Jennings’ trial attorneys failed to ask jurors to fully consider evidence — including details of his remorse for the officer’s shooting and possible brain damage — that might have spared him a death sentence.

Jennings had received an execution stay in 2016. But the high court and lower appeals courts rejected his request to delay Wednesday’s execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down Jennings’ request to commute his sentence.

A twice convicted robber, Jennings had been on parole for about two months when prosecutors say he entered Mr. Peeper’s Bookstore with the intention of robbing the business. Since being paroled, Jennings had gone on a crime spree, committing about 10 robberies, including having already robbed the same adult bookstore 12 days before Howard’s slaying.

Officer Howard, 24, was in the middle of arresting the store clerk for operating a pornographic video arcade without a permit when Jennings shot the officer twice in the head.

Howard, who had been wearing a jacket with the words “Houston Police” on it, staggered for a few feet before falling to the ground, where he was shot twice more by Jennings. The clerk later testified the shooting was so quick, Howard never had a chance to unholster his gun.

Jennings was arrested hours later when he went to a Houston hospital after being shot in the hand by his accomplice, who got angry at Jennings for shooting the officer.

Joe Gamaldi, the president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said Jennings has spent more time on death row than Howard was alive.

Howard “was an honourable man full of integrity who did his job. He was absolutely one of the best and he was just taken entirely too soon by this animal who murdered him in cold blood,” Gamaldi said.

After his arrest, Jennings confessed to killing Howard, telling police in a tape-recorded statement he was remorseful about what happened and would “face whatever punishment (he had) coming.”

Edward Mallett, one of Jennings’ current appellate attorneys, said the inmate’s trial attorneys failed to present sufficient evidence of his remorse as well as his history of brain damage, being abused as a child and drug addiction. He said the trial attorneys also failed to provide an instruction to jurors that would have allowed them to give sufficient weight to these aspects of Jennings’ life when they deliberated.

Mallett said a prior appellate attorney also failed to argue these issues in earlier appeals.

“There has not been an adequate presentation of his circumstances including mental illness and mental limitations,” Mallett said.

Jennings’ trial in 1989 took place just as the Supreme Court issued a ruling that faulted Texas’ capital sentencing statute for not allowing jurors to consider evidence supporting a sentence less than death.

The Texas Legislature changed the statute to address the high court’s concerns but that took place after Jennings was convicted.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office called Jennings’ claim he had ineffective lawyers at his trial and during earlier appeals “specious,” and said appeals courts have previously rejected allegations his personal history was not adequately investigated and presented at his trial.

“My hope is that on Wednesday (Howard’s family gets) the closure that they’ve been searching for 30 years,” Gamaldi said.

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By The Wall of Law January 31, 2019 Off

012018-Manson_Follower_parole

012018-Manson_Follower_parole

LOS ANGELES — A California panel on Wednesday recommended that Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten be paroled after serving more than four decades in prison.

After a hearing at the women’s prison in Chino, California, commissioners of the Board of Parole Hearings found for the third time that the 69-year-old Van Houten was suitable for release.

If her case withstands a 150-day review process, it will rest in the hands of California’s new Gov. Gavin Newsom. Van Houten was recommended for parole twice previously, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown blocked her release.

This March 29, 1971, file photo shows Leslie Van Houten in a Los Angeles lockup.

Van Houten was among the followers in Manson’s murderous cult who stabbed to death wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in 1969. Van Houten was 19 during the killings, which came a day after other Manson followers killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in Los Angeles.

Tate’s sister attended Wednesday’s proceedings and said afterward that she vehemently disagrees with the parole recommendation.

“I just have to hope and pray that the governor comes to the right decision” and keeps Van Houten behind bars, Debra Tate said. Newsom’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said he was pleased with how the commissioners focused on making sure that she took “full responsibility” for her role in the killings.

“She chose to go with Manson. She chose to listen to him. And she acknowledges that,” Pfeiffer said. He predicted that it “will be much more difficult” for Newsom to block parole than it was for Brown.

Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in connection with the Sharon Tate murder case in 1969.

In his decision last year, Brown acknowledged Van Houten’s youth at the time of the crime, her more than four decades of good behaviour as a prisoner and her abuse at the hands of Manson. But he said she still laid too much blame on Manson for the murders.

At her last hearing, Van Houten described a troubled childhood. She said she was devastated when her parents divorced when she was 14. Soon after, she said, she began hanging out with her school’s outcast crowd and using drugs. When she was 17, she and her boyfriend ran away to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District during the city’s Summer of Love.

She was travelling up and down the California coast when acquaintances led her to Manson. He was holed up at an abandoned movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had recruited what he called a “family” to survive what he insisted would be a race war he would launch by committing a series of random, horrifying murders.

Van Houten said she joined several other members of the group in killing the LaBiancas, carving up Leno LaBianca’s body and smearing the couple’s blood on the walls.

No one who took part in the Tate-LaBianca murders has been released from prison.

Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence.

Earlier this month, a California parole panel recommended for the first time that Manson follower Robert Beausoleil be freed. Beausoleil was convicted of killing musician Gary Hinman.

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By The Wall of Law January 31, 2019 Off

012018-Manson_Follower_parole

012018-Manson_Follower_parole

LOS ANGELES — A California panel on Wednesday recommended that Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten be paroled after serving more than four decades in prison.

After a hearing at the women’s prison in Chino, California, commissioners of the Board of Parole Hearings found for the third time that the 69-year-old Van Houten was suitable for release.

If her case withstands a 150-day review process, it will rest in the hands of California’s new Gov. Gavin Newsom. Van Houten was recommended for parole twice previously, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown blocked her release.

This March 29, 1971, file photo shows Leslie Van Houten in a Los Angeles lockup.

Van Houten was among the followers in Manson’s murderous cult who stabbed to death wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in 1969. Van Houten was 19 during the killings, which came a day after other Manson followers killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in Los Angeles.

Tate’s sister attended Wednesday’s proceedings and said afterward that she vehemently disagrees with the parole recommendation.

“I just have to hope and pray that the governor comes to the right decision” and keeps Van Houten behind bars, Debra Tate said. Newsom’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said he was pleased with how the commissioners focused on making sure that she took “full responsibility” for her role in the killings.

“She chose to go with Manson. She chose to listen to him. And she acknowledges that,” Pfeiffer said. He predicted that it “will be much more difficult” for Newsom to block parole than it was for Brown.

Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in connection with the Sharon Tate murder case in 1969.

In his decision last year, Brown acknowledged Van Houten’s youth at the time of the crime, her more than four decades of good behaviour as a prisoner and her abuse at the hands of Manson. But he said she still laid too much blame on Manson for the murders.

At her last hearing, Van Houten described a troubled childhood. She said she was devastated when her parents divorced when she was 14. Soon after, she said, she began hanging out with her school’s outcast crowd and using drugs. When she was 17, she and her boyfriend ran away to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District during the city’s Summer of Love.

She was travelling up and down the California coast when acquaintances led her to Manson. He was holed up at an abandoned movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had recruited what he called a “family” to survive what he insisted would be a race war he would launch by committing a series of random, horrifying murders.

Van Houten said she joined several other members of the group in killing the LaBiancas, carving up Leno LaBianca’s body and smearing the couple’s blood on the walls.

No one who took part in the Tate-LaBianca murders has been released from prison.

Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence.

Earlier this month, a California parole panel recommended for the first time that Manson follower Robert Beausoleil be freed. Beausoleil was convicted of killing musician Gary Hinman.

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By The Wall of Law January 31, 2019 Off