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In Oscar docs, an explosion of voice and style — and facts

Looking for the most vibrant corner of the Oscars? Look no further than the docs. Nowhere else do you find such a variety of form, of perspective and of storytelling. While Hollywood has in recent years been busy turning into a superhero factory, the more diverse documentary world has been exploding with an unmatched richness of experimentation and creativity.

The stars might be in other categories, but the heat is in the docs.

Take Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America, the favorite to win. It’s nearly 8 hours long and, according to ESPN, has been watched by 42.5 million in full or in part. That makes it one of the most widely seen movies of 2016. Roughly the same number of people bought tickets to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

“It originally was supposed to be five hours,” the 42-year-old Edelman recalled in a recent interview at a Brooklyn coffee shop. “Officially, they were like, ‘It’s fine if it’s six hours.’ When we screened that seven-and-a-half hour rough cut, they were like, ‘Make it whatever you need to make it.’”

It goes without saying that “Make it whatever you need to make it” is not an often-heard phrase in Hollywood. The rarity of such freedom isn’t lost on Edelman. But then again, the bigness of the canvas was the whole appeal to him. Edelman’s expansive, novelistic film amounts to not just a retelling of the Simpson trial but, with its bird’s-eye view and social history tapestry, a grand portrait of Los Angeles. In Edelman’s hands, Simpson is a mirror reflecting race, justice and fame in America — and that kind of story takes time to tell.

“There was no killing my babies based on some artificial time constraint,” says Edelman. “It was: Make the movie you want to make. It wasn’t: You have to do this thing to fit it into this box.”

Some have argued over just what box O.J.: Made in America goes in. Is it a film or TV? It’s a worthy debate, one that Edelman, who conceived and crafted his work as a film, has little interest in. (O.J. played theatrically before airing in five parts on ESPN.) But such semantics may be missing the bigger picture. The exciting shape-shifting that is currently ubiquitous in multi-screen documentary film — see Kirsten Johnson’s shortlisted memoir Cameraperson or Keith Maitland’s animated campus shooting recreation Tower — is making easy categorization elusive. And it’s producing some of the most dynamic cinema around.

“This is the golden age of the documentary,” says Barbara Koppel, the two-time Oscar winner of 1975’s revered Harlan County, USA and, most recently, a documentary on the late Sharon Jones. “These films are everywhere. Each film never ceases to amaze me, how great they are. It does my heart good.”

That’s in part the result of a healthier, if lower-paying film ecosystem. Four of this year’s five nominees were directed by black filmmakers. Along with Edelman, they are Raoul Peck (the scorching James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro), Ava DuVernay (the timely mass incarceration investigation The 13th) and Roger Ross Williams (the autistic coming-of-age portrait Life, Animated). The fifth nominee is the European migrant account Fire at Sea by the Italian director Gianfranco Rosi.

There are also more female filmmakers in the documentary field; 14 have been nominated in the past decade, including twice for Laura Poitras (2015 winner Citizenfour). Perhaps not coincidentally, several of the most powerful executives in docs are women, including Sheila Nevins at HBO, Lisa Nishimura at Netflix and Diane Weyermann at Participant Media.

“When it comes to inclusion in the documentary space, for a long time it’s been better than the feature film world,” says Thom Powers, artistic director of the DOC NYC film festival and programmer of other festivals. “By no means is it perfect and there’s a lot of room for more work to be done. But I don’t think it’s an accident that you’re seeing a lot more representation of African-American directors in the documentary nominations than you see in the feature film nominations.”

The budgets are smaller but opportunity is greater. Before DuVernay made Selma, for example, her feature debut was a doc: This Is the Life, about alternative hip-hop.

“If you’re going to decide to do something right now, you could in a DIY fashion make a documentary film,” says Edelman. “Nothing is easy. Everything is incredibly hard. But it means that people who heretofore would be excluded within whatever structure institutionally, have the ability to push forward on their own to get something done. So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there is this diversity of voices in documentary filmmaking.”

The freedom has allowed filmmakers to speak bold, uncompromising truths about subjects like race. For I Am Not Your Negro, Peck combined Baldwin’s trenchant judgments of America and race with contemporary footage of Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality.

“As artists, we are forced to find new forms because the forms that we use right now are mostly formatted,” says Peck. “The industry is asking us to work more and more in certain forms of films. As artist and filmmakers, we have to show a resistance to that. It’s part of the battle.”

The films are finding wide audiences, too. I Am Not Your Negro, hailed as an urgently vital film, opened last weekend with $709,000 on 43 screens. There are the regular outlets like PBS and HBO, which on Monday premiered Kristi Jacobson’s deeply powerful solitary confinement documentary Solitary. But streaming services, particularly Netflix (which produced The 13th) have also made documentaries a priority.

It all makes for a striking contrast to the beleaguered fiction film world. Inclusion. Innovation. Audiences. Hollywood, like the rest of us, could learn a thing or two from today’s documentaries.

Argentina and Germany have a rich history in World Cup

Diego Maradona was reportedly so struck by stage fright that he called for his mother’s help as Argentina players sat in silence in their changing room before the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.

But it was Maradona who provided the moment of brilliance that decided the game and gave Argentina its second title before 114,800 fans at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City. Four years later, Maradona was in tears as the Germans lifted the title in Rome’s Olympic stadium.

Argentina and Germany have a long and emotional World Cup rivalry involving some of the best players to grace the game. When they face each other again on Sunday in Rio De Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, it will be the third World Cup final between the teams – something no other two nations have accomplished.

The 1986 and 1990 finals are still two of the most talked about games in football history.

In 1986, Maradona was at the summit of his career and scored all four of Argentina’s goals in the quarterfinals and semifinals – including the “hand of God” against England. Franz Beckenbauer was in charge of Germany in his first major tournament as coach.

Germany’s camp was in disarray, and goalkeeper Uli Stein was sent home for insulting Beckenbauer. Journalists shared a hotel with the players and their nightly escapades became tabloid lore.

But the Germans plodded on and beat France 2-0 in the semifinals, even though the Michel Platini-led French team had been widely expected to face Argentina in the final.

And so, in the noon-time heat of the awe-inspiring Azteca, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Maradona led their sides out. The Germany captain was playing injured throughout the tournament and had not scored.

Jose Luis Brown’s header and Jorge Valdano’s goal on a counterattack gave Argentina a 2-0 lead and Maradona’s team appeared to be cruising. Then the Germans struck back.

Rummenigge and substitute Rudi Voeller scored from Andreas Brehme’s free kicks and suddenly it was 2-2 with eight minutes to play.

Maradona had been marked by Lothar Matthaeus, who did a good job throughout the match. But with the Germans trying to use the momentum and grab the winner, the ball took a weird bounce in midfield and Maradona sent Jorge Burruchaga racing with a deft left-foot flick. Burruchaga beat the offside trap and Argentina had the title.

Years later, Valdano told Germany’s Spiegel magazine that Maradona was so nervous before the final that he called for his mother, Tota.

“‘Tota, come and help me, I am afraid, you must help me,'” Valdano described the scene as Maradona broke the pre-match silence in the dressing room.

Four years after that game, Beckenbauer became the first man to win the World Cup as both player and coach.

Germany dominated the final, outshooting Argentina 23-1 but the South Americans held on despite having two men sent off, Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti, a first for a World Cup final.

The match was decided by a disputed penalty in the 85th minute that was converted by Brehme with a low shot inside the post. Matthaeus had been the designated penalty taker, but he did not trust his shoes and left it for Brehme.

Matthaeus began the match with a pair of shoes he got as a gift from Maradona. But the right shoe came apart during the first half and Matthaeus had to get a new pair during the break. He did not feel comfortable enough to take the penalty.

A furious Maradona broke into tears as he blamed the referee for the loss. Beckenbauer walked alone on the grass of the Olympic stadium in a reflective mood as his players celebrated. In 2010, Maradona was in charge of the Argentina team when it lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarterfinals, ending his second career as national team coach.

After the 1990 match, Beckenbauer predicted that a reunited Germany would be virtually unbeatable.

However, Germany is still waiting for its fourth title, having lost the 2002 final to Brazil. Argentina hasn’t been back on this stage until now – and again faces a familiar opponent.

British intelligence reveals policy for mass surveillance of Facebook, Twitter, more

Britain’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal a secret government policy justifying the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google user in the United Kingdom, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty and other human rights groups published the policy, described in a statement by Charles Farr, director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, following a legal challenge against the British government.

The document reveals that GCHQ — the British Government Communications Headquarters — believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept web searches by British residents or communications between British residents.

“British citizens will be alarmed to see their government justifying industrial-scale intrusion into their communications,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s senior director for law and policy. “The public should demand an end to this wholesale violation of their right to privacy.”

The government’s approach, which had to date not been made explicitly clear, defines almost all communications via Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as all web searches via Google, to be “external communications” because they use Web-based “platforms” based in the USA.

The distinction between “internal” and “external” communications is crucial. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which regulates the surveillance powers of public bodies, “internal” communications may only be intercepted under a specific warrant.

These warrants should only be granted where there is some suspicion of unlawful activity. However, an individual’s “external communications” may be intercepted indiscriminately, even where there are no grounds to suspect any wrongdoing.

“The security services consider that they’re entitled to read, listen and analyze all our communications on Facebook, Google and other US-based platforms,” said James Welch, legal director of Liberty in the UK.

“If there was any remaining doubt that UK snooping laws need a radical overhaul there should be no longer. The agencies are operating in a legal and ethical vacuum; why the deafening silence from our elected representatives?”

By defining the use of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media as “external communications”, British residents are being deprived of essential safeguards.

But the government’s approach may also give room for GCHQ to intercept all communications in and out of the UK. The documents suggest that: 

• GCHQ is intercepting all communications – emails, text messages and communications sent by “platforms” such as Facebook and Google – before determining whether they fall into the “internal” or “external” categories.

• The government considers that almost all Facebook and other social media communications and Google searches will always fall within the “external” category, even when such communications are between two people in the UK.

• Classifying communications as “external” allows the government to search through, read, listen to and look at each of them. The key restriction on what they do with communications that they classify as “external” is that they cannot search through such communications using keywords or terms that mention a specific British person or residence. 

• Even though the government is conducting mass surveillance — intercepting and scanning through all communications in order to work out whether they are internal or external — they consider that such interception “has less importance” than whether a person actually reads the communication, which is where the government believes “the substantive interference with privacy arises”. 

• The government believes that, even when privacy violations happen, it is not an “active intrusion” because the analyst reading or listening to an individual’s communication will inevitably forget about it anyway. 

The document’s publication follows revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the UK’s global digital surveillance activities.

It was obtained by rights groups Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pakistani organization Bytes for All, as part of an ongoing lawsuit seeking to establish the extent to which the UK government has been monitoring their online activity.

Charles Farr is the government’s key witness in the case, which will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in July. Farr’s analysis is the first time the government has openly commented on how it can use the vague legal framework provided by RIPA to scoop up posts and tweets through its mass surveillance program, TEMPORA.

Beverly Hills disowns Miss California contestant

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Less than a year after dethroned Miss California USA Carrie Prejean stirred up controversy with her remarks against gay marriage, a similar war of words is brewing in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills Mayor Nancy Krasne said Wednesday she is outraged over a Miss California USA contestant who is claiming to represent the city in the upcoming pageant and who spoke out against same-sex marriage in recent media interviews.

Krasne said in a statement that 23-year-old Lauren Ashley does not live in Beverly Hills or represent the city in any capacity. Krasne said she was shocked to see statements made by a beauty pageant contestant under the name of Beverly Hills, “which has a long history of tolerance and respect.”

Ashley recently told Fox News and other media outlets that same-sex marriage goes against God and the Bible.

Keith Lewis, a K2 Productions stage director for the Miss California USA pageant, told the Los Angeles Times that contestants choose the area they represent and Ashley chose to compete as Miss Beverly Hills in November 2010.

A phone listing for Ashley could not be found.

Krasne said the city has contacted Miss California USA pageant officials to determine ways to formally prevent any beauty contestants from claiming the title of Miss Beverly Hills in the future.

Ashley’s comments came just months after Prejean, the former Miss California USA 2009, reached a confidential settlement with pageant organizers on dueling lawsuits over her outspoken stance against gay marriage.

Prejean sued Miss California USA organizers in August for libel, slander and religious discrimination. She accused them of telling her to stop mentioning God even before her controversial remarks against gay marriage.

Prejean was fired in June after pageant officials accused her of missing events, an allegation she denied. The pageant later countersued Prejean.

Prejean said she was dethroned because she said during the Miss USA pageant that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry.