‘First We Bombed New Mexico’ depicts resilience in the face of inhumanity

 ‘First We Bombed New Mexico’ depicts resilience in the face of inhumanity
On July 16, 1945 – before the US Army dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — they detonated their first ever nuclear device approximately 60 miles north of White Sands National Park in the state of New Mexico. (US Department of Defense)
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Updated 11 January 2024
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 ‘First We Bombed New Mexico’ depicts resilience in the face of inhumanity

 ‘First We Bombed New Mexico’ depicts resilience in the face of inhumanity

CHENNAI: Man’s inhumanity toward other men is well documented yet every now and then there comes along a story that will shock and dismay audiences. “First We Bombed New Mexico” details one such story in a documentary produced and directed by Lois Lipman.

The film, which screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Monday, explores the weeks before the US’s use of two atomic bombs in Japan.

On July 16, 1945 – just a few weeks before the US Army dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — they detonated their first ever nuclear device approximately 60 miles north of White Sands National Park in the state of New Mexico.

The army did not inform the surrounding inhabitants about the dangers of radiation and for 75 years, men, women and children fell ill, suffered and died.

The 95-minute documentary details New Mexico-born Hispanic cancer survivor Tina Cordova’s movement seeking compensation for the victims, who have suffered from cancer and a high infant mortality rate for generations.

For many, this documentary serves as an introduction to the incident, which has not seen anywhere near the level of international awareness as the bombs dropped in Japan. 

Through Lipman's work, we become privy to the fact American physicians had warned General Leslie Groves — who directed the Manhattan Project, a top secret research project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II — that the Trinity explosion would be catastrophic and urged that residents be quickly moved out of the region. This did not happen, nor did the US government provide any medical information or aid after the detonation.

Although victims of the Nevada Cold War nuclear tests, held between 1951 and 1992, have been eligible for compensation since 1990, those in New Mexico had been ignored. This documentary does a solid job at  exposing the apparent racial discrimination at play. 

Expertly woven into the narrative are comments by respected nuclear experts including MIT professor and author Kate Brown – who quips that efforts to be compensated by the government are “a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse.”

“First We Bombed New Mexico” is compelling and is truly a great example of man's resilience against lies and hypocrisy.


How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry
Updated 24 May 2024
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How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry
  • From generating story ideas to streamlining post-production, artificial intelligence could revolutionize Saudi filmmaking
  • Digital arts expert thinks Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends, but recommends they start simple

DHAHRAN: When William “Wink” Winkler of Samford University landed in Saudi Arabia earlier this month for the 10th edition of the Saudi Film Festival, held in Dhahran, he felt he had discovered a new frontier in cinema and technology.

At the invitation of the American Chamber of Commerce and US Consulate in Dhahran, the instructor of digital arts brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience to conduct a masterclass in artificial intelligence in filmmaking.

However, during his week-long visit, Winkler also gained a fresh perspective on the Saudi film industry, its burgeoning local talent, and how breakthroughs in AI will transform the way movies are made in the Kingdom.

“I learned that the Saudi people are passionate and excited,” Winkler told Arab News. “They can tell amazing stories, original Saudi stories, and as they start to embrace new and emerging technology, that will help them to do that.”

William “Wink” Winkler

AI is still considered an emerging technology, but one that is evolving rapidly. In just the past two years, generative AI programs have progressed from producing janky text and surreal images to creating prose and visuals that could pass as human-authored.

As a giant aggregator of sorts, AI can instantly sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing scripts and screenplays to identify patterns and generate curated story ideas.

While the creative aspect of AI is still imperfect and causes some discomfort among screenwriters, the technology has many other more rudimentary applications in the filmmaking process.

AI could make work easier by automating parts of the filmmaking process that are grueling and time-consuming, says digital arts instructor William “Wink” Winkler. (Supplied)

In pre-production, for instance, AI can help streamline location scouting by analyzing images and videos in real time to suggest settings based on a prompt. It can also cut casting time by instantaneously analyzing audition tapes to identify which actor best fits a particular character.

Post-production is another area where AI will transform filmmaking by using automated editing tools, which can analyze footage and accurately suggest instant edits based on factors like composition and pacing.

It can also assist with traditionally manual tasks, such as color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

DID YOUKNOW?

• AI can sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing screenplays to generate story ideas.

In pre-production, AI could help streamline location scouting and cut casting time by analyzing footage.

In post-production, AI could automate editing and assist with color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

Many filmmakers already use computer-generated imagery — or CGI — to digitally create an asset, character, or effect that was not caught on camera. This advancement has thereby automated parts of the process that were often grueling and time-consuming.

CGI has also benefited from recent AI advancements with more curated algorithms that can generate realistic characters and create fantastical environments from thin air, reducing the need for extensive practical effects or location shoots.

However, AI in filmmaking is not without its issues. The tool will undoubtedly negate many jobs in the industry, while machine-generated stories might seem inauthentic, lacking in depth, relatability, and human spirit.

AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi

“Films invoke emotion, and they can create feelings because they’re told from a human story,” said Winkler. “And humans have felt feelings and have dealt with real human problems. And the computer hasn’t.

“All it can do is read what has been written and repeat it, but it doesn’t actually know what to say, or how to convey it. It can only try to replicate what a human said before.”

There are also ongoing concerns about data protection and bias in AI algorithms — something that has been an issue for social media for some time, as the algorithm merely mimics what already exists.

William “Wink” Winkler along with fellow US expert Travis Blaise who flew in to Dhahran to conduct workshops for the Saudi Film Festival. (AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi)

AI systems have a tendency to perpetuate and amplify demographic and racial biases. This can lead to discriminatory outcomes that are not inclusive, such as only generating characters it deems conventionally beautiful — oftentimes slim, blonde, and light-skinned.

Another consideration is the ethics of plagiarism, as AI pulls from existing works created by humans and generates an entirely new work without providing credit.

To manage the potential for plagiarism and the amplification of harmful biases by AI systems and those employing them, Winkler believes a thoughtful discussion leading to robust regulation is required.

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“There’s always going to be evil people. We can fight it, just like we’ve always fought it — through rules and regulations,” he said.

“I think that creating communities and discussions at small local levels — to larger governance levels — creates some guardrails around what’s happening. The more ethical, morally good people get involved to help fight the evil, the better.”

Sora is a groundbreaking text-to-video AI model developed by OpenAI — the firm behind ChatGPT — that takes written prompts and converts them into dynamic videos.

The technology can instantly generate high-quality videos with detailed scenes and complex camera movements — with just a few written descriptions.

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

There are concerns, however, about the potential misuse of programs like Sora to create “deepfakes” — digital forgeries that take a human likeness and fabricate images of them saying or doing things that never happened in reality.

These fabricated images can look and seem so realistic that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Besides the obvious reputational risks, such deepfakes could also undermine trust in institutions and even lead to conflict.

In the film world, such technology could also cost jobs. Why would studios hire human actors if the AI can make their digital likeness do and say anything without rehearsal — performing better than the original, perhaps?

This image, which is part of the "Salt" short-film series by Fabian Stelzer and was created via Stable Diffusion. (Supplied)

Winkler believes Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends — but recommends they start simple.

“I think the place that I would start is actually not in AI,” he said. “Start with a journal and a piece of paper and a pen — and document. Get the stories from your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great-grandmother and your great-grandfather.

“Everyone’s ancestors have done amazing things, and that should be documented and shared.”

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

One Saudi creator who is dabbling in AI is Dhahran resident Omar Al-Abdulhadi. While he believes AI technology has not yet been perfected, he is keen to see the market thrive and grow in the creative industries.

“All the anti-AI artists will accept the fact that AI is the future,” Al-Abdulhadi told Arab News, acknowledging the seeming inevitability of the technology’s adoption. But, with the right regulation and careful use, it does not have to be bad.

Winkler agrees. Furthermore, he believes the Kingdom is ideally placed to help this emerging industry grow. With such a young population made up of digital natives, Winkler says Saudi creatives can be future leaders in the field.

“The technology is not available right now, but I imagine that it will be very soon,” he said. “I don’t have the team or the time to do it — but maybe the Saudis can do it and change visual effects forever.”

 


Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening
Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah” had its official screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie, filmed entirely in AlUla and directed by Tawfik Al-Zaidi, is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival.

The movie is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

The film is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the prefessional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. It stars Maria Bahrawi, Yaqoub Al-Farhan, and Abdullah Al-Satian and follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” is in competition with 19 other films from around the world.

The cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.” (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

On Wednesday, the cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival Mohammed Al-Turki and Jumana Al-Rashed, respectively, appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.”

“Norah” was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation's programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.


‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’
Updated 23 May 2024
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‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’
  • The first four episodes of Season 3, in which Nicola Coughlan plays the revolving lead role, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend

DUBAI: Irish actress Nicola Coughlan, known for her role as Penelope Featherington in Netflix’s hit series “Bridgerton,” demonstrated her solidarity with Palestine this week by wearing the Artists for Ceasefire pin during an interview with USA Today as she promoted the latest season of the show, in which she plays the lead role.

When asked about the pin, the artist said: “It’s very important for me because I feel like I’m a very privileged person. I’m doing my dream job and I’m getting to travel the world, but then I’m hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah at the moment.”

The actress, whose family lived in Jerusalem in the late 70s, said her father was in the Irish army and was part of the United Nation’s Truce Supervision Organisation which worked towards brokering peace in the Middle East.

@splendiferous Nicola Coughlan speaks about her Ceasefire pin she has been wearing during the Bridgerton Press Tour #NicolaCoughlan original sound - splendiferous

“I feel very passionately about it. I’m Irish also, so it’s sort of a different perspective,” Coughlan added. “I just feel, if I have this global platform, which I do at the minute, I think if I can hopefully raise funds for aid organizations — I have a fundraiser on my Instagram right now for Medical Aid for Palestine and if people would like to donate to that or share it, I think it would be a wonderful thing to do.”

Coughlan has continuously shown her support by wearing the pin during various occasions, including the premieres of the third season of “Bridgerton,” promotional events and her television appearances such as “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “Good Morning America.”

Season three of Netflix’s Regency-era drama has become the most successful season so far based on viewership numbers, Forbes reported this week.

With part two set to drop in June, “Bridgerton” Season 3: Part 1 was the most-watched title on Netflix from the period of May 13 - 18, according to Variety. The first four episodes, released on May 16, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend.


Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis

Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis
Updated 23 May 2024
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Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis

Review: ‘99’ captures the drama of Manchester United’s annus mirabilis

DUBAI: The documentary series “99” celebrates the 25th anniversary of one of the most remarkable achievements in sporting history: when Manchester United won England’s two biggest domestic trophies — the Premier League and the FA Cup — and the most prestigious tournament in European club competition — the UEFA Champions League — to complete a (then) unprecedented treble.

The fact that the feat has since been repeated (most recently by United’s arch rivals Manchester City), has taken some of the shine off it, but this was still one of the greatest single seasons in the history of any sport.

The show is stacked with interviews with the players who made history, as well as their fearsome manager, Alex Ferguson, whose obsession with winning the Champions League has been well-documented elsewhere. There isn’t much new insight here, and footballers aren’t renowned for their eloquence, but the filmmakers have done a good job of getting them to dig beyond the platitudes and explore the sometimes-thorny relationships between certain players, the pressure of playing for (at least then) arguably the biggest club in the world, and the self-doubt that could creep in during the biggest games.

But even if its makers had managed to get nothing from the interviewees, they would have known that “99” couldn’t fail to grip even the most casual of sports fans, because the story of the actual football during the season is so outlandish that even a Hollywood exec might question anyone pitching it. Throughout the season, and particularly in the last couple of months, United staged numerous late comebacks in situations where it seemed they’d blown their chance of making history — not least in the last game, the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, when they famously scored two goals in three minutes of injury time to turn almost-certain defeat into the unlikeliest of victories: an act of what seemed like sheer willpower, inspired by the manager’s self-belief. As Ferguson said at the end of that game, “Football. Bloody hell!” The makers of “99” have successfully captured that expression.


Will Smith, Martin Lawrence attend ‘Bad Boys’ premiere in Dubai 

Will Smith, Martin Lawrence attend ‘Bad Boys’ premiere in Dubai 
Updated 23 May 2024
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Will Smith, Martin Lawrence attend ‘Bad Boys’ premiere in Dubai 

Will Smith, Martin Lawrence attend ‘Bad Boys’ premiere in Dubai 

DUBAI: Hollywood stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were in Dubai this week to attend the premiere of their new movie, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” the fourth installment of their hit buddy cop franchise.

The event, held on Tuesday at the Coca-Cola Arena, drew a large crowd of fans eager to meet the celebrities and take pictures with them.

Will Smith posed for pictures with fans. (Getty Images)

The screening of the high-octane action film, filled with humor and camaraderie, was also attended by Moroccan-Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” follows Miami detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) as they face their most dangerous mission yet. The duo battles a powerful crime syndicate threatening their city while dealing with personal challenges and their evolving partnership. 

The event drew a large crowd of fans eager to meet the celebrities and take pictures with them. (Getty Images)

The movie will be released in theaters across the Middle East on June 6.