Adonis Diaries

Archive for August 20th, 2016

How the war broke out in Syria: The day before the city of Deraa upheaval

Steven Sahiounie began writing political analysis and commentary during the Syrian war that began in March 2011. He has published several articles, and has been affiliated with numerous media. He has been interviewed by US, Canadian and German media.

The day before September 11, 2001 was like any normal day in New York City.  September 10, 2001 was unaware of the earthshaking events which would happen the next day.

Similarly, one might think the day before the violence broke out in Deraa, Syria in March 2011 would have been an uneventful day, unaware of the uprising about to begin.

But, that was not the case.  Deraa was teaming with activity and foreign visitors to Syria well before the staged uprising began its opening act.

The Omari Mosque was the scene of backstage preparations, costume changes and rehearsals.

The Libyan terrorists, fresh from the battlefield of the US-NATO  regime change  attack on Libya, were in Deraa well ahead of the March 2011 uprising violence.

The cleric of the Omari Mosque was Sheikh Ahmad al Sayasneh . He was an older man with a severe eye problem, which caused him to wear special dark glasses, and severely hampered his vision.  He was not only visually impaired, but light sensitive as well, which caused him to be indoors as much as possible and often isolated.

He was accustomed to judging the people he talked with by their accent and voice. The Deraa accent is distinctive.  All of the men attending the Omari Mosque were local men, all with the common Deraa accent.

However, the visitors from Libya did not make themselves known to the cleric, as that would blow their cover.  Instead, they worked with local men; a few key players who they worked to make their partners and confidants.

The participation of local Muslim Brotherhood followers, who would assist the foreign Libyan mercenaries/terrorists, was an essential part of the CIA plan, which was well scripted and directed from Jordan. (Thus, these Libyan terrorists were whisked inside through he Jordanian borders?)

Enlisting the aid and cooperation of local followers of Salafism allowed the Libyans to move in Deraa without attracting any suspicion.   The local men were the ‘front’ for the operation.

Ghada El Yafi shared this link. August 17 at 6:18am ·

I did not have any proof, but I was one of those that pretended since 2011 that the Deraa story about children’s torture was a created film in order to create a revolution in Syria, the state that was against the recognition of Israel, in spite of all the american “carrots”: either the one who practiced torture has been very well paid for that, either the whole story was untrue but well prepared to look like truth.

Earlier, the preparation of the cedar revolution in Lebanon was easier because of Hariri’s assassination, ( I still believe, that Hariri’s assassination happened to achieve the “New Middle East” map project).

Every day brings to us more new proves that we are thinking right.
Unfortunately, it is always difficult for people to change their mind, even in front of truth.

The CIA agents running the Deraa operation from their office in Jordan had already provided the weapons and cash needed to fuel the flames of revolution in Syria.   With enough money and weapons, you can start a revolution anywhere in the world.

In reality, the uprising in Deraa in March 2011 was not fueled by graffiti written by teenagers, and there were no disgruntled parents demanding their children to be freed.

This was part of the Hollywood style script written by skilled CIA agents, who had been given a mission: to destroy Syria for the purpose of regime change. (Supporting Hezbollah and providing it with necessary weapons to fight Israel)  Deraa was only Act 1: Scene 1.

The fact that those so-called teenaged graffiti artists and their parents have never been found, never named, and never pictured is the first clue that their identity is cloaked in darkness.

In any uprising there needs to be grassroots support.

Usually, there is a situation which arises, and protesters take to the streets.  The security teams step in to keep the peace and clear the streets and if there is a ‘brutal crackdown’ the otherwise ‘peaceful protesters’ will react with indignation, and feeling oppressed and wronged, the numbers in the streets will swell.

This is the point where the street protests can take two directions: the protesters will back down and go home, or the protesters can react with violence, which then will be met with violence from the security teams, and this sets the stage for a full blown uprising.

The staged uprising in Deraa had some locals in the street who were unaware of their participation in a CIA-Hollywood production.

They were the unpaid extras in the scene about to be shot.  These unaware extras had grievances, perhaps  lasting a generation or more, and perhaps rooted in Wahhabism, which is a political ideology exported globally by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Royal family and their paid officials.

The Libyans stockpiled weapons at the Omari Mosque well before any rumor spread about teenagers arrested for graffiti.  The cleric, visually impaired and elderly, was unaware of the situation inside his Mosque, or of the foreign infiltrators in his midst.

The weapons came into Deraa from the CIA office in Jordan.  The US government has close ties to the King of Jordan (From its inception by the British).

Jordan is 98% Palestinian, and yet has a long lasting peace treaty with Israel, despite the fact that 5 million of the Jordanian citizen’s relatives next door in Occupied Palestine are denied any form of human rights.

The King of Jordan has to do a daily high-wire balancing act between his citizens, the peace and safety in his country and America’s interests and projects in the Middle East.

King Abdullah is not only a tight-rope walker, but a juggler at the same time, and all of this pressure on him must be enormous for him, and Queen Rania, who is herself Palestinian.

These facts must be viewed in the forefront of the background painted scenery of The Syrian Arab Republic, which has for the last 40 years had a cornerstone of domestic and foreign policy carved and set in the principle of Palestinian human rights and Palestinian freedom and justice.

The US policy to attack Syria for the purpose of regime change was not just about the gas lines, the oil wells, the strategic location and the gold: but it was about crushing that cornerstone of Palestinian rights into dust.  To get rid of President Bashar al Assad was to get rid of one of the few Arab leaders who are an unwavering voice of Palestinian rights.

Deraa’s location directly on the Jordanian border is the sole reason it was picked for the location-shoot of the opening act of the Syrian uprising.    If you were to ask most Syrians, if they had ever been to Derra, or ever plan to go, they will answer, “No.”

It is a small and insignificant agricultural town.  It is a very unlikely place to begin a nationwide revolution.  Deraa has a historical importance because of archeological ruins, but that is lost on anyone other than history professors or archaeologists.

(And starting a revolution from the Turkish border would have failed: The Syrians never forgot that Turkey has occupied and, is occupying, 0ne third of its territories during the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon from 1920 to 1940)

The access to the weapons from Jordan made Deraa the perfect place to stage the uprising which has turned into an international war.  Any person with common sense would assume an uprising or revolution in Syria would begin in Damascus or Aleppo, the two biggest cities.

Even after 2 ½ years of violence around the country, Aleppo’s population never participated in the uprising, or call for regime change.

Aleppo: the large industrial powerhouse of Syria wanted nothing to do with the CIA mission, and felt that by staying clear of any participation they could be spared and eventually the violence would die out, a natural death due to lack of participation of the civilians.

However, this was not to play out for Aleppo.  Instead, the US supported Free Syrian Army, who were mainly from Idlib and the surrounding areas, invited in their foreign partners, and they came pouring into Aleppo from Turkey, where they had taken Turkish Airlines flights from Afghanistan, Europe, Australia and North Africa landing in Istanbul, and then transported by buses owned by the Turkish government to the Turkey-Aleppo border.

The airline tickets, buses, paychecks, supplies, food, and medical needs were all supplied in Turkey by an official from Saudi Arabia.

The weapons were all supplied by the United States of America, from their warehouse at the dock of Benghazi, Libya.

The US-NATO regime change mission had ended in success in Libya, with America having taken possession of all the weapons and stockpiles formerly the property of the Libyan government, including tons of gold bullion taken by the US government from the Central Bank of Libya.

Enter the Libyans stage right. Mehdi al Harati, the Libyan with an Irish passport, was put in charge of a Brigade of terrorists working under the pay and direction of the CIA in Libya.  Once his fighting subsided there, he was moved to Northern Syria, in the Idlib area, which was the base of operation for the American backed Free Syrian Army, who Republican Senator John McCain lobbied for in the US Congress, and personally visited, illegally entering Syria without any passport or border controls.

In Arizona, Sen. McCain is in favor of deporting any illegal alien entering USA, but he himself broke international law by entering Syria as an illegal and undocumented alien.  However, he was in the company of trusted friends and associates, the Free Syrian Army: the same men who beheaded Christians and Muslims, raped females and children of both sexes, sold girls as sex slaves in Turkey, and ate the raw liver of a man, which they  proudly videoed and uploaded.

Previously, Syria did not have any Al Qaeda terrorists, and had passed through the war in neighboring Iraq none the worse for wear, except having accepted 2 million Iraqis as refugee guests.

Shortly before the Deraa staged uprising began, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were in Damascus and being driven around by the President and First Lady. Pitt and Jolie had come to visit and support the Iraqi war refugees in Damascus.  Brad Pitt was amazed that the Syrian President would drive him around personally, and without any body guards or security detail.

Pitt and Jolie were used to their own heavy security team in USA.  Pres. Assad explained that he and his wife were comfortable in Damascus, knowing that it was a safe place.  Indeed, the association of French travel agents had deemed Syria as the safest tourist destination in the entire Mediterranean region, meaning even safer than France itself.

However, the US strategy was to create a “New Middle East”, which would do away with safety in Syria; through the ensuing tornado, aka ‘winds of change’.

Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and then Syria were the stepping stones in the garden of the “Arab Spring”.  But, the scenario in the Syrian mission did not stay on script.   It went over deadline and over budget.  The final credits have yet to be rolled, and the curtain has yet to fall on the stage.

We can’t under estimate the role that mainstream media had to play in the destruction of Syria.  (The media are owned by multinationals obeying to the US policies, including those owned by Saudi Kingdom and Gulf Emirates)

For example, Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin was in Deraa and personally interviewed the cleric Sayasneh at the Omari Mosque.   Al Jazeera is the state owned and operated media for the Prince of Qatar.  The Prince of Qatar was one of the key funders of the terrorists attacking Syria.

The USA was sending the weapons, supplies and providing military satellite imagery, however the cash to make payroll, to pay out bribes in Turkey, and all other expenses which needed cold cash in hand was being paid out by the Prince of Qatar and the King of Saudi Arabia, who were playing their roles as closest Middle East allies of the United States of America.  (Actually, the Sovereign Saudi fund is run by the USA)

This was a production team between USA, EU, NATO, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar primarily.

The CIA has no problem with covert operations in foreign countries, and even full scale attacks, but the matter of funding needs to come from a foreign country, because the American voters don’t care about killing people in Syria, but they would never agree to pay for it.

As long as the Arabs were paying for the project, that was OK by Mr. John Q. Public, who probably was not able to find Syria on a map anyway.

Rula Amin and others of the Al Jazeera staff, and including the American CNN, the British BBC and the French France24 all began deliberate political propaganda campaign against the Syrian government and the Syrian people who were suffering from the death and destruction brought on by the terrorists who were pretending to be players in a local uprising.

Some days, the scripts were so similar that you would have guessed they were all written in the same hotel room in Beirut.

Onto the stage stepped the online media personalities of Robert Fisk, from his vantage point in Beirut and Joshua Landis from his perch in Oklahoma.  These 2 men, sitting so far removed from the actual events, pretended to know everything going on in Syria.

British and American readers were swayed by their deliberate one-sided explanations, while the actual Syrians living inside Syria, who read in English online, were baffled.

Syrians were wondering how Western writers could take the side of the terrorists who were foreigners, following Radical Islam and attacking any unarmed civilian who tried to defend their home and family. The media was portraying the terrorists as freedom fighters and heroes of democracy, while they were raping, looting, maiming, kidnapping for ransom and murdering unarmed civilians who had not read the script before the shooting began in Deraa.

There was one global movie trailer, and it was a low budget cell phone video which went viral around the world, and it sold the viewers on the idea of Syria being in the beginning of a dramatic fight for freedom, justice and the American way.   From the very beginning, Al Jazeera and all the rest of the media were paying $100.00 to any amateur video shot in Syria.

A whole new cottage industry sprang up in Syria, with directors and actors all hungry for the spotlight and fame.  Authenticity was not questioned; the media just wanted content which supported their propaganda campaign in Syria.

Deraa was the opening act of tragic epic which has yet to conclude.

The cleric who was a key character in the beginning scenes, Sheikh Sayasneh, was first put under house arrest, and then he was smuggled out to Amman, Jordan in January 2012.  He now gives lectures in America near Washington, DC. Just like aspiring actors usually find their way to Hollywood, which is the Mecca of the film industry, Sheikh Sayasneh found his way to the Mecca of all regime change projects.

Any sexism in your own profession? Policy experts decry Middle East sexism?

My gender has never hindered my ability to conduct in-depth research all over the world. So why don’t more of my male colleagues recognize women’s contributions?

Nancy Okail is executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. Follow @NancyGEO

A few weeks ago, I started to think that I’d mistakenly walked into the men’s locker room. Wrong: As it turns out, I had merely arrived at the national security conference at which I was scheduled to speak, and my fellow panelists — all men — were gearing up to talk about the threat the Islamic State poses to the progressive Western world.

Too bad the irony of a male-dominated conference, criticizing the repressive male-dominated culture of the Islamic State, was lost on all.

Though there’s certainly a considerable qualitative difference between the positioning of women in Western society and that of the Middle East, many in the West, including those who consider themselves experts, can still be woefully blind to the double standard.

The “locker-room” colloquy with fellow conference-goers — all well-meaning — is a case in point, though by no means an isolated occasion.

Andrew Bossone shared this link. August 16 at 8:11pm ·

“Weeks later, back in Washington, I gave a briefing on the findings of the research trip to a group of analysts and policymakers in a well-lit, air-conditioned office.

The first question, offered by a male colleague, was, “How did you deal with these extremist groups? You must have been the only woman.” My response: “Yes, just like in our meeting today.”

What I left unsaid was that in both cases, I struggled with the challenge of getting the men to take me seriously.”

It was an international conference with a slate of 21 speakers, all male except for me and one other woman.

When I vented, to a male peer, about the glaring gender imbalance, he replied that it was “only normal,” after all, because I work on extremism and terrorism, not a very “feminine” field, like peace building or development. He really said that.

My gender has never impeded my ability to conduct in-depth research in places around the world that many men would not even consider approaching. Most recently, I spent an extended period of time on the borders of Aleppo, Syria, interviewing refugees, rebels, ex-Islamic State members and leaders of violent extremist groups.

It wasn’t easy, especially interacting with members of groups that have demonstrated contempt for women. I had to travel through perilous places to access my interviewees, including areas that the Islamic State shells on a daily basis.

Weeks later, back in Washington, I gave a briefing on the findings of the research trip to a group of analysts and policymakers in a well-lit, air-conditioned office. The first question, offered by a male colleague, was, “How did you deal with these extremist groups? You must have been the only woman.” My response: “Yes, just like in our meeting today.” What I left unsaid was that in both cases, I struggled with the challenge of getting the men to take me seriously.

And it’s frustrating, because I resisted the temptation to point out that despite the challenges and perils, unlike many “experts” in the room, I’ve actually met the individuals who are the subject of my research face to face.

These are by no means unique experiences in our field. I head the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, working on issues related to security, freedom and democracy.

More often than not, I find myself the only woman in meetings I attend or panels I am on — during which we routinely discuss and dissect the patriarchal Middle East society — and, to be sure, it is patriarchal — and endlessly criticize the exclusion of women in the Arab world, all along operating in a field that systematically marginalizes women.

I’m not the only one who notices the frequency of these “manels.” And there are many women far more expert than I in our field who do not receive the same recognition and acknowledgment as our male counterparts.

One colleague responded to my criticism by saying, “It is maybe because women are not aggressive enough at self-promotion” — so, presumably, blame for the inequity is on us.

Some commentators claim that men dominate my field because women prioritize family over work commitments — to which I note that after I met my professional obligation at the conference, I flew back to Washington for my twins and family grieving my mom’s passing.

It’s a shame that this choice can still be construed as a career impediment, when it should be seen as an honor.

There’s also the backward notion that women are too emotional to handle the atrocities we witness in our field. (As if males are Not professional cowards in these situations?)

But it’s one thing to be emotional and another to have our emotions prevent us from meeting our career demands.

In 2011, I was heading Freedom House’s Cairo office, when I was prosecuted, interrogated, indicted and sentenced to prison in absentia for defending freedom and democracy as part of Egypt’s infamous NGO case.

I certainly wasn’t afforded more delicate treatment by Egyptian authorities because of my womanhood. They still persecuted me, forcing me to pay a high cost for what I decided to stand up for, including being exiled for the past four years.

Last month my mother passed away a day before my conference. And I couldn’t go home to Egypt for the funeral due to my sentence. But while I would have been able to excuse myself from the conference at what is a naturally emotional time for anyone, I still kept my professional commitment. I made my presentation at the all-male conference on the Islamic State with no tears and no expectation of special treatment.

In more than one way, women face a more difficult path. In professional settings, we’re paid less and have fewer opportunities for exposure, and in repressive circumstances, women often wind up as targets.

During my own trial, my gender was used against me as I was subject both to threats and sexual harassment. Arguably, it’s harder as a woman to do research in my field, but rather than get credit for that, we are still not accorded the same level of recognition as men.

Here we are, in 2016, when a woman is running for president of the United States, the Middle East is topic A in the campaign and the current president writes an op-ed in a popular women’s magazine, describing himself as a feminist.

Yet I still expect to hear sexist comments after my talks — everything from men in my field subtly discounting the work of female colleagues, or overtly telling me I am “more than just a pretty face,” as if that’s some sort of compliment.

If part of the so-called clash of civilizations between the West and Middle East is based on the latter’s presumably regressive worldview — and the conceit of Westerners seeking to change that — what is the excuse when sexism is so commonly found on this side of the globe?

Pedro Almodóvar: ‘Nobody sings. There’s no humour. I just wanted restraint’

  7 August 2016

The director has limited himself to ‘pure drama’ for his 20th movie. Here he talks about Brexit, the vanished freedom of the 1980s, and his need for solitude

Is Pedro Almodóvar getting more respectable? You might say so.

When the international film scene first caught up with the Spanish writer-director in the late 80s, he had already been notorious in Spain for nearly a decade with his films inspired by low life and high melodrama – lurid, cheerfully scandalous, irrepressibly polysexual stories of porn stars, punk rockers, serial killers and rebel nuns.

Now, 20 features into his career, Almodóvar has long been recognised as a European classic, with his films since the mid-90s, including All About My Mother and Volver, largely turning away from outrage and perversity.

Instead, Almodóvar has come to specialise in emotional complexity, stylistic elegance and a distinctly high-art sobriety, never more so than in his latest film, Julieta, based on three short stories by the Nobel-winning Canadian author Alice Munro.

It’s little surprise to see Almodóvar receiving one of the ultimate accolades for professional seriousness – an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, which he was awarded in June alongside composer Arvo Pärt, Apple designer Jonathan Ive and other international notables from science, law and theology.

There’s a certain piquant irony to the director of church-baiting comedy Dark Habits being honoured alongside a Czech monsignor. Typically, however, the film-maker saw the camp side of things: filmed after the ceremony examining his scarlet doctoral robes, he commented: “I thought it was a Sister Act parody.” 

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“I’m afraid of turning into a misanthrope. I want to see what other people’s problems are and to empathise with them. I have to be careful not to isolate myself too much.”

The same week, I meet Almodóvar, 66, in a London hotel.

He enthuses about the honour and about the laudatio, the official address in Latin, a language he learned as a boy at a religious boarding school in Extremadura.

“The ceremony was gorgeous,” he says, leaning across a table in a bright tangerine polo shirt, his shock of silver hair making him look oddly like a chunkier cousin of David Byrne.

“I was very good at Latin. I was so pleased to listen to the laudatio because I knew what the guy was saying. There was something very old about it, but also a very modern point of view, very alive. I loved it. It was on the level of the Nobel prizes,” he beams.

Almodóvar’s last two films marked a return to his earlier, outré mode. The Skin I Live In, which reunited him with one of his most famous discoveries, Antonio Banderas, was a gothic surgical drama with a transgender twist.

Less successfully, I’m So Excited!, a hyper-camp farce set on an airliner, was loved by Spanish audiences but nose-dived elsewhere (somewhat lost in translation was the film’s intended dimension of political allegory, depicting a Spain without a credible pilot at the controls).

But Almodóvar finds himself back on terra firma with his most severe film to date, Julieta.

Based on stories from Alice Munro’s 2004 collection Runaway, it charts the biography of one woman played by two newcomers to Almodóvar’s cinema – Emma Suárez, as Julieta in middle age, and Adriana Ugarte as her younger self.

Structured as a flashback, the complex narrative takes in a dreamlike night of passion, a love triangle, subsequent tragedy and Julieta’s retreat into depressive isolation. Rather than melodrama, Almodóvar has said he was after something more austere this time – “pure drama”.

“Not that my other films are impure,” Almodóvar explains in Spanish (he skips in this interview between his native language and slightly rusty English, sometimes turning the standby interpreter beside him). “‘Impurity’ has a moral meaning in Spanish, which I don’t like. I just wanted much more restraint.”

His intention was to strip out the familiar traces of his style: “Nobody sings, no one talks about cinema and there’s no humour. I had to force myself there; sometimes during rehearsals the odd comic line would come up, which was a relief for the actors. But after the rehearsals, I decided, no humour. I thought it was the best way to tell such a painful story. And also, you know, it’s fantastic that in my 20th film I could make a change. I mean, this is very welcome.”

Almodóvar had hoped to adapt Munro’s stories for some time and even tipped his viewers a wink by sneaking a copy of Runaway into a scene in The Skin I Live In.

Intended to be his first English-language film, his adaptation, originally titled Silence, was to star Meryl Streep. In the end, however, he balked at working in English, and at the Canadian cultural specificity of Munro’s world, and set the story closer to home – Madrid, Galicia, the Pyrenees. “It’s not a faithful adaptation, but once I moved it to Spain, I had to make it really mine.”

He loves Munro’s stories, he says, because “there’s so much about her that I identify with – she’s a housewife who writes” (in recent interviews, he often refers to himself today as “a housewife”).

The essence of Munro’s writing, he says, is “a great strangeness. What I like best about her is something that’s impossible to translate to cinema, her commentaries around the main incidents – minor comments – but they become the most important thing in the story. At the end, I feel I know less about the character than at the beginning. For me, that’s a very positive thing.”

In the end, Almodóvar decided to have his protagonist played by two very different performers, a choice that yields a moving reveal when a towel is removed from Julieta’s head after a bath to reveal that Ugarte has been replaced by Suárez, visibly 20 years older.

I don’t trust ageing makeup,” says Almodóvar. “It pulls me out of a film. When you use an actor who has aged, there’s something that you can’t imitate – the eyes, the way she looks at things, the rhythm of walking, the body language.”

This coup de cinéma is all the more poignant for viewers who may remember Emma Suárez from the 90s as the angelic-looking lead of Julio Medem’s surreal existential dramas The Red Squirrel and Earth. Two decades on, her looks and acting style have acquired a stately severity that is absolutely compelling and all the more moving for being so contained.

As for the younger Julieta, she’s played with hyper-alert energy by Adriana Ugarte, the star of a hugely popular couture-themed TV series, El tiempo entre costuras (literally, The Time Between Stitches). The director cast her purely because she was superb in her audition, he says; he has no interest in Spanish TV. “For me, it isn’t a reference. I can’t judge the actors in Spanish TV fiction. I mean, they are… brrr! Poor things!” he laughs. “They don’t have time to do a good job.”

Almodóvar has always said that he works with different actors in different ways.

On Julieta, he enforced a rule of strict reserve – no comic lines, but also no tears, no overt emoting. He gave Suárez a reading list of books on pain and loss, including Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, while directing Ugarte seems to have involved teaching both deportment and social history.

“The way I directed Adriana was much more physical. It was more to explain how in the 80s a young lady behaved. Twenty-something girls now are so different from the girls of that age. I had to explain that a girl in the 80s would have felt free to fuck a man on a train if she felt like it. There was a feeling of extreme liberty and equality among the people that I knew, men and women. The modern women of that time behaved like men – in their sexuality, in the decisions they made. The bad education I gave Adriana was to make her a woman of the 80s.”

Whether or not Almodóvar can claim authoritative knowledge of how young women behave today, he certainly knows what he’s talking about with regard to Iberian subcultural history – for cinemagoers around the world, his name is synonymous with 80s Spain and its mores.

Born in a village in the La Mancha region, Almodóvar moved to Madrid in 1968, got involved in underground theatre and started making Super-8 films variously inspired by Andy Warhol, John Waters and the Hollywood melodrama tradition (he was already also an art cinema devotee, passionate about Bergman and Antonioni).

He eventually emerged as a mainstay in the Movida Madrileña (the “Madrid Scene”), an explosion of art, music, design, nightlife and general cultural liberation that lasted into the mid-80s and was a celebratory, wildly eclectic response to the end of the Franco dictatorship.

Almodóvar’s early work was overtly provocative, intensely sexual and marked by comic-strip flippancy. His barely seen first feature in 1978 was entitled Folla… folla… fólleme Tim (Fuck… Fuck… Fuck Me Tim) and, two years later, his canonic debut proper Pepi, Luci, Bom featured the director himself presiding over an erections contest.

His 80s films are among the classics of queer cinema, although Almodóvar has always refused to be categorised specifically as a gay film-maker. A friend of mine recalls him fulminating when she asked him whether he made gay films: “Did people ask Hitchcock if he made fat films?”

Almodóvar is known for his reluctance to discuss his private life, which is, in any case, very rarely touched on in the Spanish media, although some papers have identified photographer Fernando Iglesias, who sometimes plays cameo roles in his films, as being his partner for over a decade

I ask Almodóvar whether he is nostalgic for the energies of the movida years, of a different, more optimistic Spain. “I don’t like nostalgia as a feeling but it’s true that tolerance, beauty, freedom are what defined the 80s and it’s not what defines this decade in Spain. The films I made at that time, I had no trouble making, nobody got offended, yet they’re quite provocative.”

He is convinced that his 1983 anti-clerical comedy Dark Habits could not have been made today – “It would have had a very radical and violent response from the religious establishment.”

There’s a new phenomenon on the rise in Spain, he says – “the offence to Catholic sensibilities”. He mentions a recent Gay Pride poster, which showed two Virgins, associated with Barcelona and Valencia, kissing. “The archbishops held masses to condemn it. That would have been unthinkable in the 80s.”

We talk about the current state of politics, Spanish in particular and European in general, since our interview happens to fall in the few days between the outcome of the Brexit vote and the general election in Spain.

Almodóvar commiserates with me on the turn of affairs in Britain. “In Spain, we are all in shock. For my generation and the generation that came after, London represented freedom. I first came here in 1971 during the Franco dictatorship, so you can’t imagine what that meant for a young Spanish man.”

Regarding the bad morale arising from Brexit, he adds: “If it extends to Spain, it will favour this feeling of fear and uncertainty and the more conservative side of Spanish politics, the Partido Popular (People’s party).”

He was right, of course: the following Sunday’s results saw the rightwing PP maintaining its position in power.

Almodóvar had already voted in advance for the leftwing Podemos; he has been a prominent critic of the PP and is among many who regard the recent massive hike on VAT for cinema tickets as the government’s punitive revenge on the film community’s opposition to Spain’s involvement in the Iraq war.

There’s no doubt that the downbeat mood of austerity-era Spain has played its part in determining the tenor of Julieta.

Reality always filters through into my films, even when I try to reject it. It finds a crack to seep in through. The climate of the last four years in Spain has been of enormous unhappiness and even though I haven’t personally suffered from the harshness of the economic situation, I’m surrounded by people who have. I don’t think Julieta is a metaphor for Spain today but it’s no accident that my 80s films were much happier.”

Julieta also reflects his personal mood. “In the last three years, I’ve suffered physical pain and great solitude.”

If he had written the script in a different decade, he says, he could imagine Julieta going out, meeting people in the streets of Madrid. “She would be involved in others’ problems. Now it was very easy for me just to talk about her kind of solitude. I know a lot about solitude.”

I ask what he means and why especially now, since he has often talked about solitude in the past; in one book of interviews, he recalls feeling isolated as a 10-year-old because other kids weren’t interested in discussing Ingmar Bergman. “In this case,” he says, “solitude is something I choose. Anyway, you have to experience loneliness for this sort of work.”

How so – because he needs to be alone to write?

“It’s a mixture of everything,” he shrugs. “It’s a mixture of time passing, of getting older, the fact that going out is much less exciting. I’m at an age when everything is less exciting and I have to look for inspiration much more inside myself and my home than outside.”

There is a downside, he admits. “I’m afraid of turning into a misanthrope. I want to see what other people’s problems are and to empathise with them. I have to be careful not to isolate myself too much.”

This is something, indeed, that hostile Spanish critics have accused him of as his international profile has risen.

He shrugs again. “Anyway, I don’t want to complain… but [he’s speaking English now and emphasises the but] I have a lot of migraines, I don’t hear with one ear and I’m photophobic. I don’t go to award ceremonies because TV lights mean having a migraine the whole evening. So the press in Spain think I feel scorn for the ceremony.

“Sometimes solitude comes from something specific, like the fact that I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs, I don’t hear well. I don’t want to be a drag for other people, so I stay at home. It’s as simple as that.”

Because of his hearing problem, he had to warn the people sitting beside him at lunch in Oxford that his conversation might accidentally sound “silly or surrealistic. And they were very charming about it”.

Whatever his longer-term woes, 2016 has not been an easy year for Almodóvar.

In April, his long-standing repertory player Chus Lampreave, a much-loved specialist in grandmother and eccentric doyenne roles, died.

A few days later, shortly before the Spanish release of Julieta, it emerged in the Panama Papers, the leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, that El Deseo, the production company founded by the director and his brother, Agustín, had set up an offshore company in the early 90s. Given the director’s prominence as a leftwinger, this was a major embarrassment, to say the least.

Agustín issued a statement to explain that the short-lived company had been set up to facilitate co-productions but was never used; Pedro commented that he accepted his responsibility but later added that he and his brother were some of the least important names implicated: “If it was a film, we wouldn’t even be extras.”

It was a very bad moment, Almodóvar says. “I was on the front of every single newspaper and TV programme. The press was using me, in the most sensationalist way possible. It was awful, because it’s very hard to be part of a list of people that you hate. But I felt used by the media. I’m absolutely against tax havens but I’m also against the commercialisation of news.”

This unwanted exposure, he says, partly accounts for the fact that his usually faithful and very diverse Spanish public – “adolescents, many, many gay people, lots of old ladies, housewives, every category and every profession” – seemed to reject Julieta. The film scored his worst Spanish box-office in 20 years, although it went on to triumph in France and Italy

One reason for Julieta’s disappointing domestic showing, surely, is that it is such a dark film, hardly calculated to please a nation facing tough times.

The director also points out that Spanish audience figures have diminished anyway, partly because of that VAT hike. It must be galling for him, though, that Julieta was significantly trumped at the box-office by a sex comedy called Kiki, Love to Love (not to be confused with the director’s own 1993 Kika), which, by all accounts, is in the spirit of Almodóvar’s 80s work.

The director’s spirits visibly rise when I ask him about the retrospective of his films that has just begun at London’s BFI Southbank, for which he has also made a personal selection of must-sees from the history of Spanish cinema.

Which title would he most urge British audiences to see? Without hesitation, he chooses 1964 drama Aunt Tula, while among his own films he recommends Law of Desire and Talk to Her.

He clearly takes his curatorial role seriously because a few days later I get an email from his publicist to say that Almodóvar has had a rethink – scratch Aunt Tula, he’ll go for another early 60s title, the black comedy El verdugo (The Executioner).

On the sources of his own inspiration, Almodóvar claims the choice sometimes just imposes itself, as presumably it did when Alice Munro’s stories came to fascinate him. “The truth is, I’m not very conscious when I write, when I decide to do one story and not another. I’m very permeable – I don’t exactly decide the story myself. It sounds paranormal.”

I’m curious to know what the maestro is reading now and his assistant goes into the next room to fetch a paperback – a Spanish translation of Nothing Grows By Moonlight, a novel by Norwegian writer Torborg Nedreaas.

“It’s fantastic, it’s incredible,” Almodóvar enthuses. I Google it later; it’s about a miner’s daughter who forms a masochistic obsession with her teacher. It seems just the sort of thing that Almodóvar might feel like adapting if he remains in his current downbeat mood, but you wonder if he’ll allow himself some jokes in it.

Julieta is released on 26 August. The Almodóvar season is at BFI Southbank throughout August and September

New book documents ‘Journalism’s Lost Generation’1

If communities are no longer attracting quality and dedicated journalists, how can the community be held accountable and detailed news be spread around?

Scott Reinardy. Wed, 08/10/2016

LAWRENCE — For more than a decade, newspapers across the country have scaled back their staff, laid off journalists and editors, and made drastic changes in the face of economic challenges.

A University of Kansas researcher has gathered insight from thousands of journalists affected directly by those changes in a book examining newspapers’ monumental shift.

Scott Reinardy, professor of journalism, has authored “Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms.”

The book is a culmination of more than 10 years of Reinardy’s research, in which he personally interviewed hundreds of journalists and surveyed more than 5,000 others on the state of journalism.

The journalists all work or worked at small to mid-sized publications with circulations of 100,000 or less, which accounts for about 96 percent of American newspapers.

“What have cuts in the newsrooms done to those journalists in terms of burnout and stress as well as the quality of their work?” Reinardy said. “A lot of journalists lost not only a job but a career, and their communities have lost a lot as well.”

The critical analysis allows not only journalists who have lost jobs, but those who remain in newsrooms as well, to determine what ever-shrinking newsrooms and changing job requirements have meant for the quality of their craft.

“The general consensus is, ‘It’s not as good. How could it be?,’” Reinardy said. “When you have diminished quality, you have diminished product, which exacerbates the economic problems newspapers have been experiencing.”

The lost generation of the book’s title in fact can refer to three generations:

lifelong journalists who lost a career, those left behind to deal with the changing reality of the business and new professionals just entering the field who are forced to learn to operate in the business in ways totally different than those of their predecessors.

Throughout the book’s chapters, Reinardy examines topics including the collapse of the industry, burnout and job satisfaction, workload, journalism quality, the unique challenges women in journalism face and social responsibility of newspapers.

In the chapters dedicated to burnout, job satisfaction and workload, journalists paint a clear picture of a profession that has pushed many to the point of leaving or planning to leave the field, even if they have survived numerous rounds of layoffs.

“The expectation of job satisfaction has been diminished. Journalists are a dedicated group who want to do well,” Reinardy said. “But when you lay off their colleagues, expect them to do more and don’t compensate them for it, you tell them their work is not important.”

While the interviewed journalists agreed the quality of journalism has suffered, Reinardy asks pointed questions about where communities will turn to for news and services such as holding government accountable.

Producing news is expensive and not perfect, he acknowledges, but it contains the system of checks and balances that assure accurate, truthful reporting takes place that is not present in blogging and other alternative forms of reporting.

Women are especially prevalent in the lost generation as their responses made clear they are leaving newsrooms at a faster pace than men, especially those aged 25 to 35.

Some cited personal reasons, others cited professional, while many others were victims to layoffs. Regardless of the reason they left, there are fewer women working as editors and reporters, which has resulted in less diverse coverage.

“Certainly that affects the quality of your coverage,” Reinardy said.

“Journalism’s Lost Generation” will appeal to both current and former professional journalists as well as academics, educators and those interested in the state of journalism and the period of upheaval during the last decade plus.

“The hope is there is a general populace out there who will notice, good or bad, that their local newspaper is in trouble,” Reinardy said.

“If a hired group of professionals aren’t going to be producing your news, who will? Who’s going to give your community a respected voice?”




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