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28/01/2022
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Sundance’s New Frontier Draws Art Lovers into Virtual World

Every year during the Sundance Film Festival, the New Frontier exhibition introduces technologies in storytelling. This is the second year the festival and the exhibit have gone digital due to COVID-19. VOA’s Penelope Poulou spoke with curator Shari Frilot on New Frontier’s visual platforms for art, film and performance. Video Editing: Penelope Poulou , Luis Da Costa

25/01/2022
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Report: Anti-corruption Fight Is Stalled, COVID Not Helping

Most countries have made little to no progress in bringing down corruption levels over the past decade, and authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many places has weighed on accountability, a closely watched study by an anti-graft organization found Tuesday.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perception of public sector corruption according to experts and business people, found that “increasingly, rights and checks and balances are being undermined not only in countries with systemic corruption and weak institutions, but also among established democracies.”

Among other issues over the past year, it cited the use of Pegasus software, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe.

The report said the pandemic has “been used in many countries as an excuse to curtail basic freedoms and sidestep important checks and balances.”

In Western Europe, the best-scoring region overall, the pandemic has given countries “an excuse for complacency in anti-corruption efforts as accountability and transparency measures are neglected or even rolled back,” Transparency said. In some Asian countries, it said, COVID-19 “also has been used as an excuse to suppress criticism.” It pointed to increased digital surveillance in some nations and authoritarian approaches in others.

The report ranks countries on a scale from a “highly corrupt” 0 to a “very clean” 100. Denmark, New Zealand and Finland tied for first place with 88 points each; the first two were unchanged, while Finland gained three points. Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany completed the top 10. The U.K. was 11th with 78.

The United States, which slipped over recent years to hit 67 points in 2020, held that score this time but slipped a couple of places to 27th. Transparency said it dropped out of the top 25 for the first time “as it faces continuous attacks on free and fair elections and an opaque campaign finance system.”

Canada, which slid three points to 74 and two places to 13th, “is seeing increased risks of bribery and corruption in business,” the group said. It added that the publication of the Pandora Papers showed Canada as “a hub for illicit financial flows, fueling transnational corruption across the region and the world.”

The index rates 180 countries and territories. South Sudan was bottom with 11 points; Somalia, with which it shared last place in 2020, tied this time with Syria for second-to-last with 13. Venezuela followed with 14 — then Yemen, North Korea and Afghanistan tied with 16 apiece.

Transparency said the control of corruption has stagnated or worsened in 86% of the countries it surveyed in the last 10 years. In that time, 23 countries — including the U.S., Canada, Hungary and Poland — have declined significantly in its index, while 25 have improved significantly. They include Estonia, the Seychelles and Armenia.

Compiled since 1995, the index is calculated using 13 different data sources that provide perceptions of public sector corruption from business people and country experts. Sources include the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and private risk and consulting companies.

25/01/2022
by Artist
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At Least Eight People Dead in Stampede at Cameroon Sports Stadium 

Several people are dead in Cameroon after football fans crammed the gates of a new stadium to watch the home country play a match in the African Cup of Nations tournament. 

State broadcaster CRTV says eight people were killed as thousands of fans attempted to enter Yaounde Olembe Stadium in the capital Yaounde Monday to see Cameroon take on Comoros in a round of 16 game. 

Scores of other people were injured in the stampede and taken to nearby hospitals. 

The Confederation of African Football, which runs the African Cup, issued a statement saying it is “currently investigating the situation in order to obtain more details” about the stampede, and was in “constant communication” with Cameroonian authorities. 

Officials had intended to cap the amount of people allowed inside the 60,000-seat stadium to around 80 percent capacity due to concerns about the COVID-19 concerns.  

Monday’s tragedy comes just a day after at least 17 people were killed and eight others injured  in a nightclub fire in Yaounde.   

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.  

24/01/2022
by Artist
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From Alaska to Washington DC – Theatre Director Molly Smith Has Seen it All

Molly Smith, who is the artistic director of the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., has been highlighting American plays for over 20 years. Liliya Anisimova has her story, narrated by Anna Rice. Camera: Yuriy Zakrevskiy

24/01/2022
by Artist
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To Stream or Not to Stream? COVID Turns Film Industry Upside Down

Just as studios were resuming theatrical releases at the end of last year, the omicron variant of the coronavirus rolled in, forcing a return to streaming or a theater release-streaming hybrid. Now that the traditional way of viewing new releases has changed, the film industry faces a crucial question: In the era of COVID-19, how does one measure box office success? Penelope Poulou has more.

24/01/2022
by Artist
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French Fashion Designer Thierry Mugler Dies Aged 73

French designer Thierry Mugler, who reigned over fashion in the 1980s and died on Sunday, was as famous for his fantastical couture as for his blockbuster fashion shows. He was 73.

Mugler’s daring collections came to define the decade’s power dressing, with his clothes noted for their structured and sophisticated silhouettes, showcased by his extravagant shows.

“I always thought that fashion was not enough on its own and that it had to be shown in its musical and theatrical environment,” he once said.

In later years, he dressed Beyonce and Lady Gaga — and in 2019 came out of retirement to create Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala look.

“We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23rd 2022,” said a post on the designer’s official Facebook account.

His agent Jean-Baptiste Rougeot, who said the designer had died of “natural causes,” added he had been due to announce new collaborations early this week.

Born in Strasbourg in December 1948, as a young teen Mugler joined the Opera du Rhin’s ballet company before studying at the School of Decorative Arts.

From a young age he created his own clothes, adapting items bought at nearby flea markets. He moved to Paris aged 20, initially to work with another ballet company — but was more successful with his own wardrobe.

Mugler soon became a freelance stylist and worked for various fashion houses in Paris, London and Milan.

In 1973, he took the plunge and created his own label “Café de Paris”, before founding “Thierry Mugler” a year later.

His designs exacerbated and celebrated women’s forms: shoulders accentuated by padding, plunging necklines, constricted waists and rounded hips.

“Dancing taught me a lot about posture, the organization of clothing, the importance of the shoulders, the head carriage, the play and rhythm of the legs,” said Mugler.

A showman at heart, he organized spectacular presentations of his creations pioneering the modern spectacle of the 21st century fashion show.

“Today’s fashion shows are a continuation of what Mugler invented. The collections were pretexts for fashion shows,” recalled Didier Grumbach, former CEO of Thierry Mugler.

He had showmanship in his blood: for the 10th anniversary of his label in 1984, he organized the first public fashion show in Europe with 6,000 attending the rock concert-like show.

But nothing compared to the 20th anniversary celebration in 1995, staged at the Cirque d’Hiver.

Models including Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova and Kate Moss paraded alongside stars such as Tippi Hedren and Julie Newmar with the spectacle culminating in a performance from James Brown.

The 1992 launch of his company’s first perfume “Angel” — in collaboration with Clarins, which acquired a stake in the company before taking control in 1997 — was a runaway success.

Clarins shuttered Thierry Mugler ready-to-wear in 2003, a year after the designer reportedly left the brand, but continued the scent business with “Angel” rivalling Chanel’s No.5 for the top spot in sales.

Renowned for his work with celebrities, he counted Grace Jones and Hall among his muses, and had a long-running creative collaboration with David Bowie — even dressing him for his wedding to Iman.

Despite seemingly retiring from fashion’s frontlines in the early 2000s, Mugler continued to impact culture and worked with Beyonce on her “I am…” world tour. 

In later years the designer suffered a series of accidents requiring facial surgery and rebuilt his body with intensive bodybuilding while engaging in meditation and yoga.

23/01/2022
by Artist
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UNESCO Lists Viking-Era Wooden Sailboats on Heritage List 

For thousands of years, wooden sailboats allowed the peoples of Northern Europe to spread trade, influence and sometimes war across seas and continents.

In December, the U.N.’s culture agency added Nordic “clinker boats” to its list of traditions that represent the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden jointly sought the UNESCO designation.

The term “clinker” is thought to refer to the way the boat’s wooden boards were fastened together.

Supporters of the successful nomination hope it will safeguard and preserve the boat-building techniques that drove the Viking era for future generations as the number of active clinker craftsmen fades and fishermen and others opt for vessels with cheaper glass fiber hulls.

“We can see that the skills of building them, the skills of sailing the boats, the knowledge of people who are sailing … it goes down and it disappears,” said Søren Nielsen, head of boatyard at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen.

The museum not only exhibits the remains of wooden vessels built 1,000 years ago, but also works to rebuild and reconstruct other Viking boats. The process involves using experimental archaeological methods to gain a deeper, more practical understanding of the Viking Age, such as how quickly the vessels sailed and how many people they carried.

Nielsen, who oversees the construction and repair of wooden boats built in the clinker tradition, said there are only about 20 practicing clinker boat craftsmen in Denmark, perhaps 200 across all of northern Europe.

“We think it’s a tradition we have to show off, and we have to tell people this was a part of our background,” he told The Associated Press.

Wooden clinker boats are characterized by the use of overlapping longitudinal wooden hull planks that are sewn or riveted together.

Builders strengthen the boats internally by additional wooden components, mainly tall oak trees, which constitute the ribs of the vessel. They stuff the gaps in between with tar or tallow mixed with animal hair, wool and moss.

“When you build it with these overlaps within it, you get a hull that’s quite flexible but at the same time, incredibly strong,” explained Triona Sørensen, curator at Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum, which is home to the remains of five 11th-century Viking boats built with clinker methods.

Nielsen said there is evidence the clinker technique first appeared thousands of years ago, during the Bronze Age.

But it was during the Viking Age that clinker boats had their zenith, according to Sørensen. The era, from 793 to 1066, is when Norsemen, or Vikings, undertook large-scale raiding, colonizing, conquest and trading voyages throughout Europe. They also reached North America.

Their light, strong and swift ships were unsurpassed in their time and provided the foundations for kingdoms in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

If “you hadn’t had any ships, you wouldn’t have had any Viking Age,” said Sørensen. “It just literally made it possible for them to expand that kind of horizon to become a more global people.”

While the clinker boat tradition in Northern Europe remains to this day, the ships are used by hobbyists, for festivities, regattas and sporting events, rather than raiding and conquest seen 1,000 years ago.

The UNESCO nomination was signed by around 200 communities and cultural bearers in the field of construction and traditional clinker boat craftsmanship, including Sami communities.

The inscription on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list obliges the Nordic countries to try to preserve what remains of the fading tradition.

“You cannot read how to build a boat in a book, so if you want to be a good boat builder, you have to build a lot of boats,” the Viking Ship Museum’s Nielsen said. “If you want to keep these skills alive, you have to keep them going.”

23/01/2022
by Artist
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San Francisco’s Chinatown Opens for Cautious Lunar New Year Revelry Despite Omicron 

George Chen’s high-end China Live restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown has lost 90% of its Lunar New Year bookings made by company parties and big families fearing the spread of COVID-19 as the omicron variant rampages across the United States. Three of his 100 employees have gotten the disease since the omicron surge began. 

 

But his three-floor restaurant is not turning away dine-in customers like a year ago. No state or local government has ordered shutdowns. Smaller parties can still come in for informal, private meals, and Chen hopes to see more of those gatherings ahead of the global Chinese population’s major annual holiday, which falls on February 1 this year. 

 

“Last year I think we were in the middle of a shutdown – during that time we couldn’t even [be] allowed to do outdoor seating, forget indoors,” Chen told VOA on Tuesday. “This year is tough. … We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hopefully people will feel more comfortable, get vaccinated and come out and enjoy themselves.” 

 

The 64-year-old career restaurateur’s story serves as a microcosm for San Francisco, keeper of the best-known Chinatown in the United States, as the Year of the Tiger approaches. 

Countless individuals have decided on their own to stay home, auguring thin crowds, but San Francisco’s signature Chinese New Year Festival and Parade are scheduled to roll floats and feature lion dances in densely populated hilly streets lined with red-festooned Chinese-owned shops. The city’s annual Chinese New Year street fairs are on, as well. 

 

“This year because of the vaccinations, because we have a better understanding of the variants and the pandemic, we are cautiously optimistic to proceed forward with a live parade,” parade organizer spokesperson William Gee said. “We’re hoping to bring back a lot of the iconic memories and performances that people remember by just coming out and watching the parade.” 

 

Event organizers ask that everyone there be vaccinated or come with proof of a negative COVID-19 test a few days ahead. 

 

Locals told VOA say they’ve had enough of staying indoors. 

 

Lin Wei, 50, for example, says he plans to go out. The sanitation worker came from Guangdong province 11 years ago for work and misses the energy of a live Lunar New Year celebration. Lunar New Year in China involves large, extended family reunions, weeks of fireworks and the equivalent of a formal spring cleaning for each household. 

 

“The last two years (the celebrations) stopped, so this year there might be a bit more, and if I’ve got time I’ll show up,” Lin said. On the chance of catching COVID-19, he said, “I’ve grown numb to that over the past two years.” 

 

But Lin said he would avoid taking his family to the festivities as a health precaution. 

 

Sherwin Won, 69, a retired university clinical lab scientist, plans to shun the traditional large family reunion and focus on spring cleaning. As a family, the San Francisco native said, “we talked about it and discussed it and said, ‘we’re going to celebrate it six months later.’” 

 Like Chen’s restaurant, open events and spaces in San Francisco’s Chinatown generally are expected to draw thin crowds as people decide to stay home and avoid the risk of contagion. Chen estimates that 50% of the district’s stores have closed during the pandemic, possibly for good. 

 

Paper goods and variety stores in San Francisco did only sporadic business this week as supplies of holiday decorations became sparse. Holidaymakers normally buy Lunar New Year paper scrolls to hang on their front doors and red envelopes for cash that will be gifted to children in the family. 

 

The Buddha Exquisite Corp. paper goods shop has turned to airmail to import most of its made-in-China 2022 supplies because normal marine shipping takes “a lot longer than usual,” store operator Rebecca Cheung said, adding that prices on such goods have risen. 

 

COVID-19 restrictions and rising consumer demand have snarled marine shipping in much of the world. 

Elsewhere in the United States, Chicago’s Chinatown is ready for an annual Lunar New Year parade and lion dances. The Seattle Chinatown International District has postponed its Lunar New Year celebration event until April 30. 

 

Events in Los Angeles and Houston are expected as well, while Washington, D.C., canceled its 2022 program. 

Michelle Quinn, Matt Dibble, Michael O’Sullivan contributed to this report.

22/01/2022
by Artist
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New Approach to Teaching Race in School Divides New Mexico 

A proposal to overhaul New Mexico’s social studies standards has stirred debate over how race should be taught in schools, with thousands of parents and teachers weighing in on changes that would dramatically increase instruction related to racial and social identity beginning in kindergarten. 

The revisions in the state are ambitious. New Mexico officials say they hope their standards can be a model for the country of social studies teaching that is culturally responsive, as student populations grow increasingly diverse. 

As elsewhere, the move toward more open discussion of race has prompted angry rebukes, with some critics blasting it as racist or Marxist. But the responses also provide a window into how others are wrestling with how and when race should be taught to children beyond the polarizing debates over material branded as “critical race theory.” 

The responses have not broken down along racial lines, with Indigenous and Latino parents among those expressing concern in one of the country’s least racially segregated states. While debates elsewhere have centered on the teaching of enslavement of Black people, some discussions in New Mexico, which is 49% Hispanic and 11% Native American, have focused on the legacy of Spanish conquistadors. 

“We refuse to be categorized as victims or oppressors,” wrote Michael Franco, a retired Hispanic air traffic controller in Albuquerque who said the standards appeared aimed at categorizing children by race and ethnicity and undercutting the narrative of the American Dream. 

The New Mexico Public Education Department’s proposed standards are aimed at making civics, history, and geography more inclusive of the state’s population so that students feel at home in the curriculum and prepared for a diverse society, according to public statements.

“Our out-of-date standards leave New Mexico students with an incomplete understanding of the complex, multicultural world they live in,” Public Education Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus said. “It’s our duty to provide them with a complete education based on known facts. That’s what these proposed standards will do.” 

The plan calls for students to learn about different “identity groups” in kindergarten and “unequal power relations” in later grades. One part of the draft standards would require high school students to “assess how social policies and economic forces offer privilege or systemic inequity” for opportunities for members of identity groups. In a first for the state, ethnic studies and the history of the LGBT rights movement also would be introduced into the curriculum. 

An Albuquerque pastor, Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia, welcomed the change in her written comment, arguing children see race early, and that learning about it in school can dismantle stereotypes early. When her eldest child was 3, she said that her Filipino dad wasn’t American because he has dark skin, while her mother was American because she has light skin. 

“Already, a cultural script that said to be American is to be light-skinned had somehow seeped into my preschooler’s consciousness,” Miller-Mutia said in an interview. 

Many Democratic-run states across the country are looking to diversify those cultural scripts, while Republican-run ones are putting up guardrails against possible changes. California was among the first states last year to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement. Texas passed a law requiring teachers to present multiple perspectives on all issues and one Indiana lawmaker proposed that teachers be required to take a “neutral” position. 

The education department in New Mexico is reviewing over 1,300 letters on the proposed standards along with dozens of comments from an online forum in November. The standards were written with input from 64 people around the state, mostly social studies teachers, and are to be published next spring with revisions. 

Among the authors was Wendy Leighton, a Santa Fe middle school history teacher. As a leader of the revisions for the history section of the standards, she said the goal was to take marginalized groups like indigenous, LGBTQ and other people “that are often not in textbooks or pushed to the side and making them kind of more closer to the center.” 

Identity was the center of a class she taught in December, where students learning about the Salem witch trials identified which groups were at the center of power — clergy, men — and which were on the margins — women, servants. 

“What’s a marginalized group in America today?” she asked the class. 

State Republicans have argued that parents should teach their children sensitive topics like race and that there are bigger priorities in a state that ranks toward the bottom in academic achievement. 

“The focus that I feel is urgent is math, reading and writing. Not social studies standards,” said state Rep. Rebecca Dow, one of six candidates for the Republican nomination for governor next year, hoping to unseat Democratic incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. 

Some parents who wrote public comments said they would rather homeschool their children than have them learn under the proposed standards. 

“Struggle and adversity have never been limited to one specific race or ethnicity. Neither has privilege,” wrote Lucas Tieme, a father of five public school students, who are white. 

Tieme, a bus driver for Rio Rancho public schools, said his wife was homeschooled so they’d be ready to take their kids out of school if it came to that. 

Some parents who support the changes generally are skeptical of introducing race for the youngest students. 

Sheldon Pickering, 41, has two adopted children who are Black, and has seen casual racism against his kids escalate as they reach adolescence in Farmington, near the southeast corner of Utah and the eastern part of the Navajo Nation. He has had “the talk” with his Black son, instructing him how to interact with police. But Pickering, who is white, worries about schools introducing too much too soon. 

“If we start too early, we rob kids of this rare time in their life that they have just to be kids,” said Pickering, a cleaning business owner. “They just get to be these amazing little kids and enjoy life without preconceived notions, without context.”