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Five Foreign Language Films Up for Oscar

Farhadi, whose film A Separation won the best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2012

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FILE - Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, Oct. 10. 2016. Farhadi has chosen not to attend the Oscars ceremony.

United States, 28Feb 2017: Of the five films nominated for the Academy Awards’s Best Foreign Language Film, none has won either a BAFTA in Britain or a Golden Globe in the United States. So the Oscar field is wide open.

South Pacific Romeo and Juliet

The Australian entry, Tanna, tells a Romeo-and-Juliet style story set on a South Pacific Island. The film’s Australian director, Bentley Dean, said he had wanted to go back to Tanna to make a movie ever since he went there more than 10 years ago to make a documentary.

“I had a brief window of opportunity between projects and I convinced my wife to come with me, with my two small children and try and make a film by collaborating with the local community,” Dean said. “We connected with the tribes over there and went and visited and said, ‘What do you think? Do you want to make a film together?’ and they said yes.” he added.

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Danish Retelling of WWII Story

Land of Mine recounts the true story of teenaged German prisoners of war who were made to clear mines from the coasts of Denmark after World War II. Martin Zandvliet, who directed the film, said it caused a lot of soul searching in Denmark.

“It brought out a lot of debate,” Zandvliet said. “The historians came out of their holes so to speak, and it brought out a big debate in the media whether it was right to treat the Germans like this or whether it was facts or whether it was fiction or whether I had fictionalized it too much or whether all these things – that is interesting for a movie.”

Swedish Novel Becomes a Film

Sweden’s A Man Called Ove tells the story of a disagreeable old man who keeps trying to hang himself so that he can be reunited with his late wife. But when a young Iranian woman moves into his neighborhood, his perspective changes.

The film is based on the novel by Fredrik Backman. Actor Rolf Lassgard, who plays Ove, says the novel helped him make choices for the film.

“A book is much larger than a film, you have one hour and 45 minutes but I have shot films from several books and I am not afraid of the book,” he said. “Of course you could feel the pressure but pressure is something good to have on you. I used the book as a tool as an actor because you can find a lot of good stuff that you can use in a shoot,” he said.

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Cannes Winner from Germany

Germany’s Toni Erdmann is a father-daughter comedy that also pokes fun at sexism, greed, and family relationships. The film won the FIPRESCI prize given by critics at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Maren Ade says she has been almost overwhelmed by the film’s success.

“It was a lot of work, the success, but it’s nice and I enjoy that the film is released in so many countries,” Ade said. “It’s really something that you dream of when you do a film. It’s what you do the film for that it has its own second life with the audience. It’s a crazy time and the year’s almost gone now. I don’t know.”

Trump Travel Ban Hits Iranian Oscar Nominee

Iran’s entry is The Salesman from director Asghar Farhadi. It tells the story of an Iranian theater couple whose lives are turned upside down when the wife is attacked in their apartment.

Farhadi, whose film A Separation won the best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2012, will not be attending the Oscars because of the Trump administration’s ban on travel from Iran and six other Muslim majority countries. Though the ban has been temporarily overturned in U.S. courts, the president has announced plans to issue a new order soon.(VOA)

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Iranian Hackers Wage Offensive Cyberattacks Amid Tensions with US

Iran has increased its offensive cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure

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Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation from Tehran, Aug. 6, 2018. Iran has increased its offensive cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure as tensions have grown between the two nations, experts say. VOA

Iran has increased its offensive cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure as tensions have grown between the two nations, cybersecurity firms say.

In recent weeks, hackers believed to be working for the Iranian government have targeted U.S. government agencies, as well as sectors of the economy, including oil and gas, sending waves of spear-phishing emails, according to representatives of cybersecurity companies CrowdStrike and FireEye, which regularly track such activity.

It was not known if any of the hackers managed to gain access to the targeted networks with the emails, which typically mimic legitimate emails but contain malicious software.

U.S. sanctions

Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE – Security firm FireEye’s logo is seen outside the company’s offices in Milpitas, Calif. VOA

The cyber offensive is the latest chapter in U.S.-Iran cyber operations battle, with this recent sharp increase in attacks occurring after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector this month.

Tensions have escalated since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year and began a policy of “maximum pressure.” Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions. Tensions spiked this past week after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone,  an incident that nearly led to a U.S. military strike against Iran on Thursday evening.

“Both sides are desperate to know what the other side is thinking,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye. “You can absolutely expect the regime to be leveraging every tool they have available to reduce the uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, about what the U.S.’s next move will be.”

CrowdStrike shared images of the spear-phishing emails with AP.

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One such email that was confirmed by FireEye appeared to come from the Executive Office of the President and seemed to be trying to recruit people for an economic adviser position. Another email was more generic and appeared to include details on updating Microsoft Outlook’s global address book.

The Iranian actor involved in the cyberattack, dubbed “Refined Kitten” by CrowdStrike, has for years targeted the U.S. energy and defense sectors, as well as allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike.

The National Security Agency would not discuss Iranian cyber actions specifically but said in a statement to AP on Friday that “there have been serious issues with malicious Iranian cyber actions in the past.”

“In these times of heightened tensions, it is appropriate for everyone to be alert to signs of Iranian aggression in cyberspace and ensure appropriate defenses are in place,” the NSA said.

Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE – In 2010, the Stuxnet virus disrupted operation of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran. VOA

Fuel sectors, infrastructure

Iran has long targeted the U.S. oil and gas sectors and other critical infrastructure, but those efforts dropped significantly after the nuclear agreement was signed. Cyber experts said that after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in May 2018, they saw an increase in Iranian hacking efforts.

“This is not a remote war [anymore],” said Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos Inc. “This is one where Iranians could ‘bring the war home’ to the United States.”

Caltagirone said as nations increase their abilities to engage offensively in cyberspace, the ability of the United States to pick a fight internationally and have that fight stay out of the United States physically is increasingly reduced.

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The U.S. has had a contentious cyber history with Iran.

In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus disrupted the operation of thousands of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran. Iran accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to undermine its nuclear program through covert operations.

Iran has also shown a willingness to conduct destructive campaigns. Iranian hackers in 2012 launched an attack against state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, releasing a virus that erased data on 30,000 computers and left an image of a burning American flag on screens.

Banks, dam

In 2016, the U.S. indicted Iranian hackers for a series of punishing cyberattacks on U.S. banks and a small dam outside New York City.

U.S. Cyber Command refused to comment on the latest Iranian activity. “As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning,” Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite the apparent cyber campaign, experts say the Iranians would not necessarily immediately exploit any access they gain into computer systems and may seek to maintain future capabilities should their relationship with the U.S. further deteriorate.

“It’s important to remember that cyber is not some magic offensive nuke you can fly over and drop one day,” said Oren Falkowitz, a former National Security Agency analyst. It takes years of planning, he said, but as tensions increase, “cyber impact is going to be one of the tools they use and one of the hardest things to defend against.” (VOA)