Film AlUla, Creative Media Skills Institute to train new generation of film professionals

The boot camp is part of a series of initiatives supported by Film AlUla to build a workforce and attract inward investors to AlUla.  (Supplied/File)
The boot camp is part of a series of initiatives supported by Film AlUla to build a workforce and attract inward investors to AlUla.  (Supplied/File)
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Updated 24 January 2023

Film AlUla, Creative Media Skills Institute to train new generation of film professionals

Film AlUla, Creative Media Skills Institute to train new generation of film professionals
  • Boot camp will offer young talents chance to develop world-class skills for a career in film industry

LONDON: Film AlUla, the Royal Commission for AlUla’s film agency, has partnered with the UK’s industry-led Creative Media Skills Institute to host exclusive training for aspiring film industry professionals.

The two organizations have teamed up to give 25 local trainees from AlUla the possibility to attend a 10-day hands-on boot camp led by award-winning film professionals.

The training program, which will be held in AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s northwestern region, will prepare talents for employment in production, assistant directing, and the art, locations, costume, make-up and hair departments.

The training will be led by award-winning industry professionals including Ailie Smith, CEO of the Creative Media Skills Institute, who is known for her work on iconic titles such as “Harry Potter,” “Prince of Persia,” “Troy,” “Cold Mountain,” and “Mad Max,” and Iain Smith, a BAFTA-winning film producer who was awarded the Order of the British Empire title for his services to the film industry.

The boot camp will also feature Terry Bamber, an assistant director who worked on the films “101 Dalmatians” and “102 Dalmatians” with Micky Moore and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, and David Anderson, a director renowned for organizing outreach initiatives that offer free filmmaking instruction to young people from underprivileged backgrounds.

The inaugural vocational film industry boot camp, which is scheduled to run from Feb. 26 for 10 days, combines classroom study and hands-on, pragmatic workshops hosted in the scenery of AlUla, home to Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The boot camp is part of a series of initiatives supported by Film AlUla to build a workforce and attract inward investors to AlUla. 

Building on the enthusiasm for the Hollywood feature film “Kandahar,” which was filmed in AlUla in December 2021, the Royal Commission for AlUla’s film agency hopes to boost the growth and productivity of the film industry in the region by meeting the higher-level skills required to accelerate the flourishing sector in Saudi Arabia.


Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention

Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention
Updated 25 sec ago

Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention

Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention

HONG KONG: An episode of “The Simpsons” that refers to “forced labor camps” in China is nowhere to be found on the Disney+ streaming service in Hong Kong amid growing censorship concerns in the city.
Hong Kong once boasted significant artistic and cultural freedoms compared to mainland China, but authorities have clamped down on dissent following democracy protests in 2019, including stepping up film censorship.
Episode 2 of the US animated hit’s 34th season included the line: “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones and romance.”
“One Angry Lisa,” which first aired last October, could not be accessed on Disney+ using a Hong Kong connection but is available elsewhere, AFP confirmed.
It is the second time in three years that the streaming service’s Hong Kong version has dropped a Simpsons episode that satirised China.
The previously affected episode showed the Simpsons visiting Beijing’s Tiananmen Square — the site of a deadly 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters — finding a sign there that read: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
The Hong Kong government and Disney did not immediately provide comment.
In 2021, Hong Kong passed censorship laws forbidding broadcasts that might breach a broad national security law that China imposed on the city.
Censors have since ordered directors to make cuts to their films and refused permission for others to be shown.
While those rules do not cover streaming services, authorities have warned that online platforms are still subject to the national security law, which criminalizes the broadly defined crimes of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
In recent years, Hollywood has been accused of bending to China’s censorship regime to tap into its vast consumer base and billion-dollar box office.
A recent United Nations report found allegations of torture and forced labor in the far-western Xinjiang region were credible, accusations Beijing denies.
Rights groups say more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are detained in what the US State Department and others have said amounts to genocide.
In 2020, Disney came under fire for filming the live-action Mulan remake in Xinjiang, with local government agencies thanked in the credits.


Google unveils ChatGPT rival Bard, AI search plans in battle with Microsoft

A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 2019. (AP)
A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 2019. (AP)
Updated 07 February 2023

Google unveils ChatGPT rival Bard, AI search plans in battle with Microsoft

A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 2019. (AP)
  • Currently, Google presents text that exists elsewhere on the Web for questions where the answer is clear

CALIFORNIA: Google owner Alphabet Inc. on Monday said it will launch a chatbot service and more artificial intelligence for its search engine as well as developers, an answer to Microsoft Corp. in their rivalry to lead a new wave of computing.
Microsoft, meanwhile, said it planned its own AI reveal for Tuesday.
The cascade of news reflects how Silicon Valley is anticipating massive change from so-called generative AI, technology that can create prose or other content on command and free up white-collar workers’ time.
The ascent of ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI that could disrupt how consumers search for information, has been one of the biggest challenges to Google in recent memory.
In a blog post, Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said his company is opening a conversational AI service called Bard to test users for feedback, followed by a public release in the coming weeks.
He also said Google plans to add AI features to its search engine that synthesize material for complex queries, like whether learning guitar or piano is easier. Currently, Google presents text that exists elsewhere on the Web for questions where the answer is clear.
Google’s update for search, the timing of which it did not disclose, reflects how the company is bolstering its service while Microsoft is doing the same for Bing, embedding OpenAI’s capabilities in it.
Microsoft has said it plans to imbue AI into its all its products and on Tuesday plans to brief news outlets on developments it did not specify, with its CEO Satya Nadella, according to an invitation seen by Reuters. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, tweeted that he would also attend the event.
How Google aims to differentiate Bard from OpenAI’s ChatGPT was unclear. Pichai said the new service draws on information from the Internet; ChatGPT’s knowledge is up to date as of 2021.
“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our” AI, Pichai said.
Behind the new chatbot is LaMDA, Google’s AI that generated text with such skill that a company engineer last year called it sentient, a claim the technology giant and scientists widely dismissed.
In a demo of the service, Bard like its rival chatbot invites users to give it a prompt while warning its response may be inappropriate or inaccurate. It then bulleted three answers to a query about a space telescope’s discoveries, the demo showed.
Google is relying on a version of LaMDA that requires less computing power so it can serve more users and improve with their feedback, Pichai said.
ChatGPT at times has turned away users because of explosive growth, with UBS analysts reporting it had 57 million unique visitors in December outpacing potentially TikTok in adoption.
Google also plans to give technology tools, first powered by LaMDA and later by other AI, to creators and enterprises starting next month, Pichai said.

 


Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims

Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims
Updated 07 February 2023

Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims

Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims
  • Responding to a Wall Street Journal report, Musk said the business is ‘trending to breakeven’ but admitted that it still faces challenges
  • The platform expanded its Twitter Blue paid-for verification service to Saudi Arabia and 5 other territories last week, as it looks for ways to boost revenues

LONDON: Twitter has been saved from bankruptcy and the business is on track to break even, according to CEO Elon Musk.

In a message posted on the social media platform on Sunday, he said recent months had been difficult but the company is now in a stronger financial position, though there are further hurdles to overcome.

“Last three months were extremely tough, as had to save Twitter from bankruptcy, while fulfilling essential Tesla (and) SpaceX duties,” he wrote.

“Wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. Twitter still has challenges, but is now trending to break even if we keep at it. Public support is much appreciated!

“To be extra clear, Twitter is definitely not financially healthy yet but is trending to be so. Lots of work still needed to get there.”

Musk posted his comment in response to a news report in The Wall Street Journal that examined his personal struggles while running several companies simultaneously, and questioned his physical well-being.

Following Musk’s takeover of Twitter in October, the company reported a massive drop in revenues from advertisers. This prompted the South African-born billionaire to say Twitter was like a “plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire, and the controls don’t work,” and was at risk of going bust. He blamed the revenue decline on activists putting pressure on advertisers not to do business with the company after his takeover.

In his efforts to tackle the financial challenges Twitter faces, Musk has implemented a number of changes to the business and the platform. Shortly after completing his acquisition, he restructured the company and laid off about half of its 7,500 staff.

In an effort to enhance monetization of the platform, in December he revamped its Twitter Blue verification service in some territories and introduced a subscription-based tier that allows any user to obtain a “blue check” badge next to their name for $12 a month. The service expanded to six additional countries last week, including Saudi Arabia, increasing to 12 the total number in which it is available.

Also last week, Twitter announced it would end free access to its application programming interface, or API, which is used by third-party developers, and offer a basic paid tier instead. To further expand its revenue pool, the company was also reportedly considering offering popular usernames for sale at auction. In January, Twitter auctioned memorabilia from the company’s San Francisco headquarters.

Though the business appears to still be in a precarious financial state, the platform announced on Friday it will start sharing advertising revenue with some content creators.


French channel airs three-part Hezbollah documentary investigating Beirut port blast links

French channel airs three-part Hezbollah documentary investigating Beirut port blast links
Updated 06 February 2023

French channel airs three-part Hezbollah documentary investigating Beirut port blast links

French channel airs three-part Hezbollah documentary investigating Beirut port blast links
  • Two-year investigation reveals the militia’s defiance of justice, ties with drug cartels
  • Three part docuseries receives mixed reception in Lebanon

LONDON: French broadcaster France 5 aired night a three-part docuseries on Sunday looking into Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah and its ties to drug cartels and the Beirut port explosion.

The series, titled “Hezbollah, l’enquête interdite” which translates to “Hezbollah, the Forbidden Investigation,” delves into the Lebanese militant group’s history over the past 40 years.

Through a series of testimonials from high-profile officials, it casts a light on the group’s defiance of justice, protected by the Iranian regime.

The three-part film, each episode an hour long, also exposes Hezbollah’s secretive funding methods and seeks to highlight how the international community failed to curb its activities.

Directed by Jerome Fritel and Sofia Amara, it is based on the US Drug Enforcement Agency investigations and indictments and includes interviews with high-ranking Hezbollah leaders, including the number two official, Naim Qassem.

Alternating archive images and exclusive testimonies, Fritel and Amara explore in detail the story of Hezbollah from its creation in hiding during the Lebanese Civil War in 1982, up to the explosion which ravaged the Port of Beirut in 2020.

The two journalists also uncover the ambiguities that surround Hezbollah’s finances, revealing its involvement in Colombian cocaine trafficking.

The docuseries, which is currently only available in France, immediately triggered reactions from Lebanese people and the international community.

Some people welcomed the documentary, saying that although Hezbollah’s facts are well known to the Lebanese people, the report helps to expose the group to international scrutiny.

Hezbollah “is responsible for the explosion of Beirut and the destruction of our beautiful country,” one user said on Twitter.

“We Lebanese knew it but it’s time for the world to know it too!”

 

Following the revelations, some users urged foreign actors to take action against Hezbollah.

“The International Society now knows an important part of the truth … what we really hope is a reaction to the magnitude of our expectations,” commented a Lebanese Twitter user.

 

Sky News Arabia and Arab News columnist Maria Maalouf was among the many users who posted links to download the episodes and urged followers to watch the documentary, which otherwise would not be available in Lebanon.

Some users, however, accused France 5 of propaganda against Hezbollah, and argued that the report is only a tactic to deter people, to “scare” and “alienate” them.

“Leave Lebanon in peace. No need for fake reportage,” one user said.

 


Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema

Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema
Updated 06 February 2023

Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema

Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema
  • AI in filmmaking should give the audience conscious experiences that speak to the subconscious, says Al-Hamoud

LONDON: Emerging filmmaker Ahmed Al-Hamoud and artificial intelligence scientist Ahmed Kaky of John Moores University announced on Monday a joint venture to create cutting-edge technology that would revolutionize the cinematic frame.

The project will be executed under the umbrella of Al-Hamoud’s company, Tenet Ai Production, according to a press statement announcing the novel venture.

While the applications of AI in the filmmaking industry are still in their early stages, they have a vast potential to change the industry, Kaky explained, highlighting that incorporating AI in filmmaking can change the game in many ways.

Abdo Sukari, a scientist specializing in innovation and development based in Switzerland, embarked on the venture to add a unique contribution that combines the filmmaker’s creative ideas with the scientist’s technical insight.

He revealed that the team intends to revolutionize screenwriting and filmmaking concepts using several patents.

“I’m (confident) we can develop something that will revolutionize how we think about the cinematic experience,” Sukari said. “The combination of multidisciplinary expertise film techniques, AI and innovation development will birth a unique and first-of-a-kind concept.”

After years of consulting with different outside advisors, Al-Hamoud, known professionally as Hima, sought to build on research in neuroscience, experimental psychology and linguistic theories from prestigious universities and institutes such as MIT and Stanford, laying the groundwork for constructing artificial neural networks in a two-year time frame.

He pointed out that using AI in filmmaking will allow the audience to have conscious experiences that speak to their subconscious.

“I design algorithms for locating hidden configurations in cinematic data sets, sourcing from social media, text mining and dialogue analytics to visual storytelling, and using a combination of machine learning models and deep learning,” Al-Hamoud said.

“The ultimate goals of this technology are to build cutting-edge technology that will create a distinct cinematic experience known as the Hima Cinematic Universe, unlike anything we’ve experienced before,” he added.

“My second goal is to help Hollywood professionals, directors, cinematographers and editors push cinema boundaries as we prepare to open a new lab in Los Angeles over the coming two years. We are working on several patents investing in AI in the film industry.

“For me, each movie scene has its algorithm that stands solidly for the entire film. This technology will create a persistent rhythm for the unique dimensions of my scripts,” Al-Hamoud added.