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Saudi Arabia’s first woman film maker, Haifaa Al-Mansour, said her country was becoming “more tolerant and more accepting” as she picked up an award in Cannes on Saturday for her acclaimed film “Wadjda”.
The 2012 tale of an impish young Saudi girl who plots to own a bicycle in defiance of a ban has won the hearts of critics and public alike in France, Germany and Switzerland, where it is being distributed.
Filming “Wadjda” was an odyssey in itself.
In conservative neighbourhoods, local residents would block shooting, or Mansour would have to direct from a van with a walkie-talkie, as she could not be seen in public together with male crew and actors.
The film itself will only be seen in the kingdom on DVD or on television, as cinemas there are banned.
Invited to the Cannes Film Festival to pick up a prize in the “newcomers” category of the France-Culture Liberation awards, Mansour played down the pressure from conservatives and argued that the future for women in her country was more promising.
Conservative reaction to the movie, as measured on Twitter, remained hostile, but there had been a hugely positive reaction amongst young women, especially those on scholarships abroad, she said in an interview with AFP.
“Conservatives in general, men and women, I think what they want is for women to exist in privacy, they want women to be in a certain way, the way that they know, the way that makes them feel secure and all that,” she said.
But, she argued, “The country is not as it was before, all conservative, there is room now, there is room to bring in art and women’s rights and women’s issues, and people are more tolerant and more accepting. So it is changing.”
Waad Mohammed, the 10-year-old actress who plays the lead role, has had no negative repercussions from the boundary-testing film, Mansour said.
“She has no problem at all. She calls me sometimes, ‘I am on TV!’, ‘We want a quote from you!’ She has won the best actress in Dubai,” she said.
“Saudi Arabia is really opening up and changing, there is a space for women, especially young women, and the film was also very intimate, it wasn’t flashy. She’s celebrated, she’s a star at school now, and she’s having a good time.”
Mansour, 38, was one of 12 children who grew up in a small town in Saudi Arabia, with parents who supported her career despite pressure from relatives who said filmmaking was “not honourable”.
She studied literature at the American University in Cairo and film at the University of Sydney; her husband is American.
She said her plans included making another film in Saudi Arabia.
“There are so many stories to tell,” she said.
“I want to go to my hometown and do stories on all the girls I went to school with. It’s a great source of inspiration. Now I am just travelling with the film. Hopefully in the coming months I will settle down and start working on a project.”
“Wadjda” was co-produced by Germany’s Razor Film and several Saudi companies, including Rotana Studios, which is linked to a member of the royal family.
Asked if she felt she was being forced into a role as a defender of Saudi women’s rights, Mansour said she had not sought the part, but did not reject it, either.
“I hope to inspire other filmmakers and women in Saudi to believe in themselves and that if they really believe in something they can change their reality. It’s very important to create a space for ourselves,” she said.
“It is hard in a place like Saudi Arabia and the Middle East sometimes for a woman. But it is very important not to give up.”
Tens of thousands of people joined a union-organised march in Rome Saturday, protesting against the new coalition government’s austerity measures.
The metal workers union FIOM said the rally was to demand “the right to jobs, training and health care”.
“We cannot wait any longer,” said FIOM secretary Maurizio Landini as Italy is mired in recession.
He said the country’s dire economic conditions began with the decisions of the previous governments of Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti.
But his message to new Prime Minister Enrico Letta was “to put jobs back at the centre” of the political debate.
The unemployment rate in Italy has reached 11.5 percent, and a staggering 38,4 percent among young people aged 15 to 24.
“We have to stop the layoffs and reform social aid,” said Landini, calling for benefits to fight against job security.
Organisers claimed some 100,000 people turned out for the march and rally in central Rome.
Italy’s national statistics agency last week forecast that the economy will shrink by 1.4 percent this year — drastically downgrading its earlier forecast of a 0.5 percent contraction.
Letta formed a grand coalition government last month after the country was rudderless following inconclusive February elections.
He said last week about the challenges he faces: “I never said it would be easy. On the contrary, I know very well that it is very difficult.”
Americans by the droves plunked down cold cash Saturday for a chance at fulfilling their most feverish dream: winning the $600 million Powerball lottery jackpot.
Millions will be glued to their TV sets when the Powerball numbers are drawn in a live event broadcast just before 11:00 pm eastern time (0300 GMT Sunday). If there is no winner, the jackpot could rise to close to $1 billion by the next drawing on Wednesday.
The jackpot is “the largest in the 21-year history of the game,” the Iowa state lottery agency said in a statement.
Kim Chatman, a building security guard in Washington who plans to buy her lotto ticket after work, said “you’ve got to take your chance — that’s what it’s all about.”
The $2 tickets are sold at supermarkets, corner stores and gas stations in 42 states, the capital Washington and the US Virgin Islands.
In the midwestern state of Minnesota, tickets are even sold at fuel pumps and automatic teller machines.
“Strong sales across the country are the reason the prize is taking big jumps now,” the Iowa state lottery agency said — particularly after the May 15 drawing, when the jackpot stood at $363.9 million, and there was no winner.
Sales were also boosted after Powerball tickets became available in California starting in April.
The game is a choice of five numbers from a pool of 59, plus a Powerball number from a separate pool of 35.
Powerball — a shared jackpot coordinated by the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), a non-profit group formed by the participating state lotteries — cannot be played from outside the United States or outside the participating states.
The richest US jackpot of all time was $656 million, won in a Mega Millions drawing in March 2012 and split between three tickets in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland. Like all US lotteries, the winnings are subject to tax.
Back then, “there were big lines for three days” of customers buying tickets, said Rajendra Prasad Bhusal, who works at the Continental Wine and Liquor store in downtown Washington.
That’s when the tickets cost $1. “Now, people complain that the tickets cost too much,” he said.
In recent days, customers have streamed in to buy Powerball tickets, but the crowd is only a third of the numbers seen in March 2012, according to the liquor salesman.
The Powerball website says the odds of winning the jackpot are one in 175,223,510. For a comparison, the odds of getting struck by lighting in the United States is one in 280,000, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute.
The main Powerball website advised that “swinging a live chicken above your head while wishing for the future numbers does NOT work” to improve the chances of winning. “There is no improvement to be had by swinging a dead chicken,” it added.
Buying more tickets helps, “but the odds are still high and hitting the jackpot is still a question of fate,” it said.
During a congressional hearing regarding the IRS on Friday, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) inadvertently led the head of the IRS to contradict the notion that conservative nonprofits were singled out for scrutiny.
At the hearing, outgoing acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller repeatedly objected to the use of the word “targeting.” He said the so-called “be on the lookout” (BOLO) list was an “inappropriate” organizational tool or “shortcut” that IRS staff used to find potential political cases. Miller claimed the tea party groups would have be subjected to extra scrutiny regardless of the BOLO list.
“If the targeting wasn’t targeting, if the targeting wasn’t based on philosophy, how come only conservatives got snagged?” Roskam confidently asked.
“They didn’t, sir,” Miller responded. “Organizations of all walks and all persuasions were pulled in. That’s shown by the fact that only 70 of the 300 organizations were tea party organizations, of the ones that were looked at by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration].”
Roskam angrily cut off Miller and asserted his statement was at odds with the inspector general’s testimony, then ended his questioning.
But Treasury inspector general J. Russell George testified during the hearing that no evidence indicated the additional review of the 300 groups was politically or ideologically motivated. He blamed the incident on mismanagement.
Of the 298 groups subjected to additional review, 72 were “tea party” groups, 11 were “9/12″ groups and 13 were “patriots” groups, according to the inspector general’s report.
Watch video, courtesy of C-SPAN, below: