Friday, May 25, 2007

Jesus Statue in Brazil Even Controlled by Crime Lords

Police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have broken up an alleged multi-million-dollar scam involving the famed Christ the Redeemer monument, a towering statue of Jesus with extended arms that is one of the world's most visited tourist locations.

According to Brazilian officials, the scam allegedly involved ticket agents, tour guides, security guards and other employees of Tijuca National Park, who ripped off $9 million in fees paid by tourists.

Police say the employees turned in tourist fees for only one of every 15 official tour trams visiting the monument, keeping the rest of the money for themselves. The cost to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue is about $10, and the monument has millions of visitors each year. Police estimate the suspects were allegedly pocketing some $50,000 to $250,000 a month.

Christ the Redeemer is located at the top of Rio's famed Mount Corcovado. Legend has it that "Christ" always looks over Rio and its citizens. Trains to see the statue, particularly during high-tourist season, are packed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

2 Hot Movies Coming Soon - Both Based on Iranians

Movie #1 - "The Crossing"

Plot: Immigrants of different nationalities struggling to achieve legal status in Los Angeles. The film deals with the border, document fraud, the asylum and green card process, work-site enforcement, naturalization, the office of counter terrorism and the clash of cultures.

The film depicts an Iranian-American family (the Baraheri family) trying to obtain US citizenship and who's daughter is murdered by her brother due to her liberal lifestyle, called in some countries an "honor killing." This was objected to by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) who were able to persuade the director to actually have significant details of the script changed.
Actors: Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd.

Director: Wayne Kramer was born in South Africa and he immigrated to the United States in 1986 to pursue a career in film. In 1996, Wayne directed the original 35mm short film "Crossing Over" which won many international movie awards. He now making a Hollywood version.

Sources: ; ;

Movie #2 - "Persepolis"

Above: Trailer for the French release of the cartoon "Persepolis."

Plot: Based on Marjane Satrapi's best-selling graphic novel, the poignant coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution.

US Release: The film debuted in Cannes and will be released in French. U.S. distribution has been secured through Sony Pictures Classics for an English version coming in the future.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Underground Fashion Shows Thrive in Islamic Iran

Above: A model shows off one of the outfits at a secret exhibition in the basement of a nondescript Tehran apartment building.

Tehran — FIRST, a text message arrived. The brief note invited recipients to call about the location of a secret meeting. A cryptic phone conversation followed. "Who referred you?" a woman asked. "Who do you know?"
A man drove up in a Korean hatchback and dropped off a coded slip of paper. The directions led to a bland apartment building in the north of this capital.

There, men and women draped in coats and head scarves entered the lobby, their faces sullen. A young man examined their documents for signs of forgery before allowing them to pass down the staircase to the basement and into a sea of bare skin and perfume.
Amid air kisses and gossip, techno and hip-hop music thumps. The guests slide out of dark overcoats to unsheathe daringly low-cut dresses and open-slit gowns, form-fitting sweaters and go-go boots, skin-tight T-shirts and acid-washed jeans. Skinny, long-legged models giggle as they slip into outfits of satin and silk. A red carpet serves as a runway.

A clandestine Tehran fashion show glitters gloriously to life.
"Everyone is putting on a show," declares Azita, a 46-year-old designer attending the show with her 20-year-old daughter, giddily taking in the swirl of lights, music, perfume and colored fabrics. "All the ladies have gotten into the fashion business. We love it so much because the clerics hate it." She and others taking part and watching the show asked that their family names not be published for fear of retribution.
Since the beginning of the Islamic Republic 28 years ago, those who opposed Iran's Islamic system have carved out sanctuaries from its restrictions. Those islands have become more and more elaborate. They include outlandish liquor- and drug-soaked parties, art exhibitions, showings of banned movies, hip-hop concerts.

Fashion shows of outfits that abide by Islamic dress codes are common. All-women shows of new designs that don't are relatively rare. But fashion exhibitions featuring scantily clad models parading before mixed audiences of men and women almost never take place here. At least one major Internet service provider even forbids Google searches for the word "fashion."

None of that deterred Sadaf, the 30-year-old designer behind this showcase. For dozens of days and sleepless nights, she planned and organized. She scoured the bazaars for exotic fabrics. She scribbled designs onto scraps of paper in a spare room of her parents' flat in north Tehran, then hired a tailor to turn her concepts into clothing. She took the risky step of asking a friend to put up a website, . She signed six models, four of them from abroad, footing the bill for their airfare to Tehran. She could have used local models, she said, but their figures weren't up to "international standards."

She and her boyfriend combed the city and worked contacts for weeks in search of a venue that would agree to lend them a space for such a controversial event. Five days before the show, a friend of a friend agreed to rent them this basement for $1,000. They signed a document promising that all women would abide by Islamic dress codes.

"I'm a little terrified to do this," says Sami, a professional model. She spent six years posing for shoots and working catwalks in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai across the Persian Gulf before moving back to Iran last year.

Working as a model in Tehran meant going underground.

"We talk about modeling on the phone," Sami says. "But we don't talk about parties and shows on the phone. The designers call us when they need us. People are invited at the last minute. No one knows the address. Everything is like that here in Iran. Everything is private. No one works publicly."

Sadaf's outfits range in price from $130 to $760, a fortune in a country where schoolteachers earn about $2,500 a year. She sells four outfits this night, enough to cover the rent.
Some of the musicians perform afterward. The models, guests and organizers mingle over tea, refreshments and live music, savoring a night of respite from the Islamic Republic's dour fashions and rules.

Even as government censors attempt to tighten restrictions on movies and music, young Iranians now groove to their own tunes on iPods or Walkmans as they go down the street, a rare sight only five years ago. Women still comply with the requirement of keeping themselves covered, but the coverings have become tighter, more colorful and shorter, their mandatory scarves more flimsy and revealing.

Some worry that the retreat into superficial pleasures portends ill for Iran's future.
"As a backlash against the ideology imposed by the state and a mutiny against what they were indoctrinated in the schools … the youth are becoming more and more hedonistic," said Ali Dehbashi, the publisher of a well-known literary quarterly magazine, Bokhara.

The young appear to be making a conscious decision. They learn how to model watching fashion channels that are only a few clicks of the remote control away from programs by Los Angeles exiles urging them to rise up against their government. They organize shows with the same passion and stealth that dissidents might use to plot against authorities.
They invest their ingenuity into pushing the boundaries of fashion instead of politics.

Political Activist Angelina Jolie & her Movie "A Mighty Heart"

Above: Trailer for "A Mighty Heart" to be released June 22, 2007

The Film

The film recounts the life of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist with The Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan. At the time of his kidnapping, Pearl had been investigating the case of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and alleged links between Al Qaeda and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. Pearl was decapitated and his body was found cut into ten pieces. A video was released by his captors showing Pearl's beheading.

Additional Link: Daniel Pearl beheading video

The Actress

Angelina Jolie stars in the movie and it is partly produced by Brad Pitt. Ms. Jolie is well known for humanitarian generosity, as she has worked for the United Nations, donated literally millions of her own money, and has traveled to countless countries to meet refugees and other underprivileged groups. She has also adopted children from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Here are pictures of her traveling the world for worthy causes: MSNBC Photos

Above: Angelina Jolie's tatoo on the bottom of her neck says "Know your rights" and on her left shoulder is a verse written in Khmer.