Film at Berlin Fest Examines how IS Jihadists Recruit European Brides

A movie at the Berlin film festival that looks at how Islamic State fighters recruit young European women online highlights the dangers of using the internet, the actress in the starring role told Reuters.

In the film “Profile”, British journalist Amy Whittaker goes undercover to investigate the workings of the militant group by creating a fake Facebook profile and pretending to be a Muslim convert called Melody Nelson.

She comes up with a cover story, disguises her tattoo, learns a bit of Arabic and dons a hijab. Over the coming days she spends hours chatting online to an Islamic State fighter called Bilel, with whom she makes curry via video link in one scene, and gradually finds herself being attracted to him.

“It’s dangerous for us all to be online because there’s so much access to everything,” said Valene Kane, who plays Amy. “You can basically do anything online and I suppose that’s what the film shines a light on, this new world that we live in.”

“It’s not just Syria – it’s all over. People are being manipulated into different situations with the anonymity of being online and having an avatar or whatever it is that they use to represent themselves,” Kane said.

Bilel, who in the film is originally from London and describes his job in Syria as “killing people”, promises the woman he knows as Melody he will treat her like a queen and get her a cat.

The character, played by Shazad Latif, shows Melody a luxury home where she would live and makes a video call to her while he is having fun playing football with international recruits.

Kane said women often had a fantasy about what romance should be like and Bilel played that role perfectly for her character.

“This man comes on her screen and says everything that she thought as a little girl that she wanted – I‘m going to get you a palace, I‘m going to give you as many children as you want, you’ll never have to work again,” she said.

The camera shows Whittaker’s screen for the duration of the film, with viewers voyeuristically watching as she chats to Bilel and her friends and carries out internet searches on everything from Islamic State to how to freeze her eggs.

“It’s about loneliness, about who we are today, how much of our life is happening on screen and how vulnerable we are when we are attached to the internet and how scary it is,” Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov told Reuters.

“It’s a reality – it’s how we live today,” he said. “If I‘m awake for 15 hours, half of this time I‘m in front of a screen – my iPhone screen or my desktop or laptop and most important events today in my life are happening on screen.”

The film is based on the true story of French journalist Anna Erelle’s undercover work, which was published in December 2014 and resulted in six people being arrested for involvement in jihadist recruitment networks.

Germany’s domestic intelligence chief said last month that Islamic State continued to target vulnerable youths in Germany through the internet and social media.

“Profile” is one of around 400 films being screened at this year’s Berlinale, which runs until Feb. 25.

From: MeNeedIt

Trump Blasts Oprah Over 60 Minutes Episode

U.S. President Donald Trump blasted media mogul Oprah Winfrey on Twitter on Sunday night over a segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes program and again said he hoped she would face him as an opponent in the 2020 presidential race.

Actress and television host Winfrey, now a contributor to the CBS program, led a panel of 14 Republican, Democrat and Independent voters from Grand Rapids, Michigan in a wide ranging discussion about Trump’s first year in office.

Trump tweeted: “Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!”

Winfrey has told various media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, that she is not running for president, but has considered it, after there was much recent media speculation.

The panelists ranged from voters who said “I love him more and more every day,” to others questioning Trump’s stability, saying, “All he does is bully people.”

Winfrey made no declarative statements for or against the president in the program. But she did ask questions ranging from whether the country is better off economically to whether respect for the country is eroding around the world.

From: MeNeedIt

Legendary African Filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo Dies at 64

Colleagues say prolific filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo has died in his home country of Burkina Faso.

The National Union of Burkina Faso Filmmakers on Sunday announced Ouedraogo’s death at the age of 64 from an undisclosed illness.


During his career Ouedraogo produced more than 40 films including “Tilai,” which won the Grand Prix at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. In 1993, his film “Samba Traore” was featured at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear prize.


In a tweet, Burkina Faso’s president praised Ouedraogo’s “immense talent,” saying he had helped to bring “Burkina and African cinema beyond our borders.”


Ouedraogo also had served on the jury at the Ouagadougou film festival known as FESPACO.



From: MeNeedIt

Russian Athlete Suspected of Doping

A Russian athlete is suspected of breaching doping rules at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

Russian curlers said that a coach on their team told them late Sunday (South Korean time) that mixed doubles bronze medalist Alexander Krushelnitsky tested positive for meldonium, a substance banned in 2016.

Russian Curling Federation president Dmitry Svishchev would not confirm the name of the athlete. 

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) said on Monday that a second sample from the athlete had been taken and results would be available in 24 hours.

If confirmed positive by the second test, the incident could keep Russia’s team from being reinstated and marching under the national flag at the closing ceremony.

Svishchev said it was possible that athlete’s food or drink had been tampered with, suggesting that rival Russian athletes or Russia’s political enemies could be responsible.

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova was suspended for 15 months after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in 2016. For ten years she had used meldonium, a drug designed for people with heart problems.

Although the idea of a curler using performance-enhancing drugs may seem strange, the sport demands a high level of physical fitness at the Olympic level.

From: MeNeedIt

Riding a 270-kilogram Walking Robot

Robotic wheelchairs are already available in some countries. But what if a disabled person needs to travel over a bumpy stretch of a road or climb stairs? A lab in South Korea is experimenting with a walking robot with a comfortable seat for a human operator. VOA’s George Putic has more.

From: MeNeedIt

Missing Klimt Drawing Returned to Lentos Museum in Austria

A 100-year-old drawing by one of Austria’s most celebrated artists has come out of hiding.

Gustav Klimt’s drawing, Two Reclining Figures, has resurfaced after being lost from the Lentos Museum in Linz for decades, apparently hidden in the home of a former assistant at the museum who retired in 1977.

The drawing, which shows two female figures in blissful repose among fluffy bedcovers, was found after the assistant, whose name has not been released, left directions in her will that it be returned to the museum after her death. When she died in December 2017, her personal documents included instructions on where to find the drawing. It was stashed in a closet in her home.

“We were very surprised at this discovery,” said Julius Stieber, director of culture and education for the city of Linz. “We’d received a letter, but no one expected the drawing to be returned.”

Other works missing

The drawing will now be included in a 100-year retrospective showcasing the works of Klimt, as well as Austrian painters Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser on the centenary of their deaths. All three died in 1918.

Along with the Klimt drawing, three works by Schiele went missing after the four pieces were loaned to the museum, then known as the New Gallery, in 1951 by the artist and collector Olga Jager. Her family eventually brought a lawsuit and were awarded more than $10 million for the loss of the artworks.

A spokesman for the city of Linz said there were “no serious indications” that the assistant had taken the Schiele pieces along with the Klimt.

While the Klimt drawing will be returned to the family after the exhibition ends in May — in return for a refund of that part of their settlement — the search is still on for the pieces by Schiele. Officials hope the publicity from the exhibition may help unearth the missing artworks.

A police spokesperson told the Austrian news agency APA that anyone who may have possession of a lost artwork “should ask themselves if they are handling stolen goods, and do the reasonable thing and come forward.”

Another Klimt piece

One of Klimt’s best-known works is Adele Bloch-Bauer, a 1907 portrait that became the subject of a high-profile custody battle between Austria and Austrian-American Maria Altmann, a descendant of the family who owned the painting before it was confiscated by authorities during the Nazi era. The fight was chronicled in a book and movie known as Woman in Gold.

Altmann reclaimed the work in 2006 and sold it to a collector later that year for a record $135 million. It is now on display at the Neue Gallerie in New York City.

From: MeNeedIt

Tears, Exuberance as ‘Black Panther’ Opens Across Africa

“Black Panther” has burst onto the screen in Africa, handing a powerful response to the unfortunate remarks about the continent by President Donald Trump.

As the red carpet in South Africa swirled with stunning outfits and exclamations in the local isiXhosa language used in the film’s Wakanda kingdom, cast member John Kani laughed at the U.S. president’s views, which several African nations have openly scorned. (Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o said simply: “No comment.”)

The South African actor Kani, like many at Friday night’s Johannesburg premiere, expressed pride at seeing an Afrofuturistic society that celebrates traditional cultures and dreams of what the world’s second most populous continent can be.

“This time the sun now is shining on Africa,” he said. “This movie came at the right time. We’re struggling to find leaders that are exemplary and role models … so when you see the Black Panther as a young boy and he takes off that mask you think, `Oh my God, he looks like me. He is African and I am African. Now we can look up to some person who is African.”‘

Added actress Danai Gurira, who grew up mostly in Zimbabwe: “To bring this film home is everything.”

The film has opened in other top economic powers across Africa, where a growing middle class flocked to IMAX showings and shared vibrant opening-night images on social media.

“The African culture highlighted in the movie is so rich that it makes me feel proud of being black. I totally love it,” said Liz Muthoni after a screening in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “I can watch it again and again.”

“Black Panther” screened a few days ago in Kenya’s western city of Kisumu, where Nyong’o’s father, Anyang, is the local governor.

“Sometimes we think that we have two choices to make in Africa,” he wrote this month in The Star newspaper. “Choice one: We maintain our traditions and cultures and stay backward forever. Choice two: We modernize by becoming westernized and forgetting our cultural traditions which, by their very nature so we think, are stuck in the past. The experience of the Wakanda people teaches us otherwise.”

In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, “Black Panther” has been selling out its five-times-a-day screenings at the only theater showing the film. 

“Moviegoers are enjoying the African heritage part of the film. This is also unique for us because Ethiopia is often mentioned alongside the black power and black movements as the only nation not colonized by Western powers,” said Elias Abraha, the cinema’s operations chief. “There are people who changed their flight plans just to watch the movie.”

Some Ethiopian fans quickly changed their Facebook profile pictures and expressed their adoration.

“Tears stream down my face as I write this,” said one Facebook user who goes by LadyRock Maranatha. “Black Panther was basically an enormous . roller coaster of emotions, adventure and most of all the affirmation of what I had felt since I left my country for Cambridge and came back. I cried for my people and felt immense pride in being Ethiopian and most importantly AFRICAN. We are truly resilient and beautiful.”

As the audience poured out of the Johannesburg screening, spirits were high.

“Totally blown away. I got emotional,” said reality TV star Blue Mbombo, who admitted that going into the film she thought the expectations had been “hype.” But she praised its use of cultural touches like Basotho blankets and called the use of the isiXhosa language “very humbling.”

Others considered the American side of the story. “An African-American coming back to Africa, it’s a nice reminder of their heritage as well,” said Ayanda Sidzatane. She called the film awesome. “We knew it would be cool but not like this.”

Some anticipated a flood of interest from African-Americans, even cheekily. “Now I know Black Panther makes Africa look cool … But please don’t come to Lagos … It’s overcrowded,” Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley tweeted of the continent’s most populous city.

As Ghanaian celebrity blogger Ameyaw Debrah put it on social media: “What will #BlackPanther make the world think of Africa now?”

From: MeNeedIt