Comcast's Web of Lobbying and Philanthropy

By Eric Lipton, The New York Times

Only a few hours had passed after the $45 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable was announced last week when an early voice emerged endorsing the giant deal.

"Win-win situation for American businesses," said the statement from the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

It was the start of what Comcast executives acknowledge will be a carefully orchestrated campaign, as the company will seek hundreds of such expressions of support for the deal — from members of Congress, state officials and leaders of nonprofit and minority-led groups — as it tries to nudge federal authorities to approve the merger.

But what the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce did not mention in its statement praising the transaction was that it had collected at least $320,000 over the last five years from Comcast's charitable foundation, which is run in part by David L. Cohen (pictured), the Comcast executive who oversees the corporation's government affairs operations.

It is a hint, critics say, of just how sophisticated Comcast's lobbying machine is, an enterprise that, like the company itself, reaches across the United States and has more than 100 registered lobbyists in Washington alone.

That team, as of the end of last year, featured five former members of Congress. But it also included Meredith Attwell Baker, who left the Federal Communications Commission in 2011 to help lead Comcast's internal lobbying office in Washington — just five months after she voted to approve a big deal for Comcast, its takeover of NBCUniversal.

"This is the era we live in — of big money," said Michael J. Copps, another former F.C.C. member, who left in 2011. He says the Comcast and Time Warner Cable deal will result in too great a concentration of control over the nation's cable and broadband Internet networks. "They leave no stone unturned when they get into one of these efforts," he said.

Mr. Cohen said such criticism was unwarranted, as Time Warner Cable and Comcast do not serve any of the same markets nationwide.

But he and other company executives conceded that Comcast had been working since the deal was announced to organize a comprehensive push for approval — an effort that includes not only former congressional aides who will lobby the Democrats or Republicans they once worked with, but even distinct teams to focus on specific ethnic groups.

And Mr. Cohen adamantly rejected any suggestion that the corporation's history of supporting nonprofit groups and charities, particularly groups that serve African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, was motivated by a desire to build political allies.

"People would like to take this 20-plus-year-old incredible commitment to communities and these organizations and would like to make it a bad thing — that we are buying off support for the transaction," Mr. Cohen said in an interview, referring to the Comcast Foundation's $140 million in grants since its inception and more than $3.2 billion since 2001 when all kinds of corporate support (cash and in-kind support like free public service announcements) are included. "That is simply not true. And I believe it is offensive to the organizations we support."

Comcast is recognized nationally for its commitment to promoting diversity — both on the air and in the employment ranks at the television channels and cable systems it owns, efforts expanded after the NBC deal as a condition to its approval.

Recent additional actions include the start-up of several minority-owned channels on its cable networks, like Aspire, begun by the former National Basketball Association star Magic Johnson, and BabyFirstAmericas, a Hispanic-focused English-language channel. Comcast, as part of the NBC merger deal, also offers inexpensive broadband Internet access to poor families nationwide, a program that has more than 260,000 subscribers.

Leaders of several minority groups said Comcast did not simply donate money to their groups. It also funds programs to try to improve economic opportunities for minorities, they said.

"You want us to support this?" said Alex Nogales, chief executive of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, in an interview, recalling a meeting at Comcast headquarters in March 2010 with Mr. Cohen and other top company officials, as they sought support from his group and other Hispanic groups for the NBC merger, support it received after expanding its commitments. "Then tell me what is there in this deal for Latino communities and other communities of color."

The merger with NBC offers a case study of how central a role this network of nonprofit groups can play when the company is seeking regulatory actions by the government, particularly the F.C.C., which weighs a commitment to local communities and diversity when making its decision.

The F.C.C. case file on the merger with NBC includes at least 54 groups that Comcast has donated money to — including small entities like the Centro de la Familia de Utah and the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel — that wrote letters to the agency in 2010 urging it to approve the transaction, or signed an agreement with Comcast endorsing it, according to a review of the file by The Center for Public Integrity and The New York Times. Comcast highlighted most of the letters on its own website.

These groups received at least $8.6 million from the Comcast Foundation over nearly a decade through 2012, not including other donations from the corporation directly, the analysis found.

The correlation between giving and support for its deals extends to Congress: 91 of the 97 members of Congress who signed a letter in 2011 supporting the Comcast NBC merger received contributions during that same election cycle from the company's political action committee or executives.

Mr. Cohen, in the interview, said it was not surprising that these groups were willing to speak up in favor of Comcast, as they in many cases have a longstanding relationship with the company and its employees.

But even one of Comcast's own lobbyists said in an interview that the relationship with some groups had a transactional flavor.

"If you have a company like Comcast that has been with them for a long time and continues to support them, they will go to bat for them," the contract lobbyist for Comcast said, asking that he not be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, "even if it means they have become pawns."

Javier Palomarez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the financial support his organization has received from Comcast is a tiny share of its overall budget. Support for the latest Comcast deal, he said, is based on his confidence in the company's commitment to diverse communities, and the benefits of the transaction.

So far, some members of Congress and other minority organizations that supported the NBC merger, including the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, have again praised Comcast's track record but withheld formally endorsing this new deal, saying they needed to study it more.

Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a nonprofit group that is challenging the merger, said he was just waiting for the flood of letters of support to start, once Comcast files with the F.C.C. for the regulatory approval.

"They are the best in the business when it comes to pushing on all the levers in Washington to get done what they want," he said. "I have to give them that."


The Mexican Voices of Popular U.S. TV Programs Are Speaking Up - About Their Low Wages

By Russ Finkelstein, Public Radio International

If you've seen recent episodes of "The Simpsons" in Spanish, chances are you've heard Eduardo Ramírez. He's the voice behind Nelson, Otto the Bus Driver, Bumblebee Man and Lenny.

Ramírez is a theater actor by training. A few years ago, a fellow actor suggested he learn dubbing — being a voiceover artist for Spanish-language soundtracks — to earn extra cash. Ramírez quickly learned that performing voices for TV audiences was a different craft than stage acting. 

"They see a face and hear a voice," Ramírez explained, "and the trick in dubbing is that they match, you know? That the people doesn't think, 'Wait a minute, that voice doesn't belong to that face.' That's the tricky part."

Dubbing is a sub-category of work and training in Mexico. And Ramírez has been pretty successful, so far. 

"You know, in theater, there are like 100 people who come to see you, but, for example "The Simpsons", all of Latin America have this dubbing that we made here in Mexico," he said. That means millions of TV viewers across Latin America have heard Ramírez. So the money must be pretty good, right?

"No," said Ramírez, laughing. "Well, for example, in this agency where we work in 'The Simpsons,' for what I did yesterday, like 10 minutes of work, it was like $20- 25."

In Mexico, $20-a-day is still roughly four times the minimum wage. Plus, it only takes Ramírez about 10 minutes to record his character's lines. So it seems like a decent living, until you consider the wide diffusion of the actor's work.

"The thing is, this work goes to all of Latin America and maybe some parts of the USA, and so that's where it becomes underpaid," Ramírez said.

Ramírez is part of a growing group of trained actors who feel that their work is undervalued, especially as the dubbing industry gets more competitive and as companies outsource the work to other Latin American countries. The actors claim that fans are complaining about having longtime voices suddenly replaced.

The fight between actors and dubbing companies first flared in 2005. That's when Humberto Vélez — for 15 years the voice of Homer Simpson, or Homero, in Spanish — led the show's core crew of Spanish dubbers in Mexico on strike for better pay. The actors lost and were replaced. 

Mario Castañeda, the creative director at one of Mexico's biggest dubbing studios, explained, "You can always say to the producers or to the dubbing company, 'Hey, I want to earn this money,' and then you have to realize something: you are not Homer Simpson, you are the voice."

Castañeda knows. He is one of Mexico's most recognizable voices, having dubbed Bruce Willis and Jim Carrey films, along with TV shows like 'The Wonder Years' and 'Dragon Ball Z.' He thinks the dubbing industry increasingly sees voice actors as replaceable — especially with the rise of lower-cost studios in other parts of Latin America. Add to that, he said, the fact that non-Mexican actors are now mastering the coveted, generic Mexican accent.

"A lot of people is trying to get a better price, and some clients have switched to Argentina, to Venezuela, to Colombia, to Chile," Castañeda said.

He estimates that Mexico's dubbing industry has lost about one third of its business to competitors and that Mexican actors haven't seen pay increases in more than 10 years. In the meantime, he argues, audiences have forgotten about the value once placed on having that subtly distinct voice.

"It's like Mickey Mouse. I don't know who Mickey Mouse is in the United States. Here in Latin America, it's Arturo Mercado Junior. And he has been Mickey Mouse for more than a decade, I think. But whenever they want to change him, they just have to look for someone who can say, 'Haha, hello, come on Pluto!' and if they can find a guy that can do that, that's the voice of Mickey Mouse," Castañeda said.

And the way things are going, Mexico's historic hold on the voices of popular TV shows, from Mickey Mouse to "Los Simpsons," may soon become a thing of the past.

This story is part of a partnership with Radio Ambulante to provide coverage of the complex, cultural interactions between the Latino community and the diverse American population.


Former FCC Commissioner Blames Himself For Approving Mergers That Ruined Journalism

By Mathew Ingram, GigaOm

Confessional letters from former FCC commissioners are fairly rare at the best of times, but it's even more unusual to get one from a former regulator who blames himself for some of the damage that has been done to the media industry in the United States via mega-mergers. That's pretty much what former commissioner Michael J. Copps does in an open letter he wrote that was published at the Columbia Journalism Review site on Thursday.

Copps, who was sworn in as a Federal Communications Commission board member in 2001, says in the letter that he had a "front-row seat watching government policy undermine your profession and our democracy" for more than a decade. Based on some of the FCC's decisions, Copps says that he "saw first-hand how my agency's decisions limited your ability to accomplish good things." He goes on to say that thanks to the FCC's desire to approve almost any merger deal:

"Gone are hundreds of once-independent broadcast outlets. In their stead is a truncated list of nationwide, homogenized, and de-journalized empires that respond more to quarterly reports than to the information needs of citizens."

Not surprisingly, the recently-announced $45B merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable helped spark Copps' thoughts in this regard, since it will result in a media behemoth that not only controls a huge chunk of the U.S. market for cable but will also have unprecedented control over the kinds of content that subscribers can access via its internet pipes.

Deals cut the muscle out of newsrooms

Copps says the sales pitch of media giants who bought and merged properties was often that there would be "synergies" and "economies of scale" that would make the resulting company more efficient. But what that translated into, he said, were massive layoffs in the media:

"Everywhere I looked, I saw newsrooms like yours being shuttered or drastically downsized, reporters getting the axe, and investigative journalism hanging by the most slender of threads. Instead of expanding news, the conglomerates cut the muscle out of deep-dive reporting and disinvested in you."
It wasn't just broadcast, the former FCC commissioner says — the FCC made things worse for newspaper journalism as well, by making it easier for large media companies to own both broadcast outlets and newspaper chains. "It was disheartening to realize how government — my own agency — was an accomplice in diminishing our news and disfiguring your journalism," he says.

Copps also says he doesn't buy the argument that the internet or new-media startups can take on much of the work that traditional newsrooms used to do, because "only a few have managed to find an online model to support the resource-intensive journalism that has been so drastically diminished in traditional media." Perhaps in the future they might, but not now, he says.

The former commissioner argues that one of the things his former agency needs to do is to ensure a free and open internet by enshrining "net neutrality" principles in law, after they were struck down by a recent court decision. And he says the United States — and the media in particular — need to spark a national debate on the future of the internet, so that the people can make their voices heard.


Call for Submissions: Warner Bros. TV Directors Workshop

Warner Bros. Television Workshop has expanded their program to include fresh, original directing talent! The submission period for the brand new Directors' Workshop is open February 19-28. 

This innovative new program is designed to prepare elite directing talent for the transition into episodic television.

Information for both Writers' and Directors' Workshops can be found online at: televisionworkshop.warnerbros.com


'Living,' 'Instructions,' 'Gloria' Up For Platino Awards

By John Hopewell, Variety

David Trueba's Spanish Goya winner "Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed," Eugenio Derbez's U.S./Mexican B.O. smash hit "Instructions Not Included" and Chilean Sebastian Lelio's Berlin actress winner "Gloria" figure among 47 Best Picture entries at the 1st Platino Ibero-American Film Awards.

A bold attempt to create kudos of Oscar or Latin Grammy impact for now closer-knit movie industries in Latin America, Spain and Portugal, the Platino Awards will unspool April 5 at the Teatro Anayansi in Panama City, with a gala awards ceremony, then spectacular party.

Spain's EGEDA producers' rights collection society is teaming with FIPCA, the Ibero-American Federation of Film and Audiovisual Producers, to organize the Platinos. They enjoy the backing of national Academies and film funding boards.

Guadalajara Fest director Ivan Trujillo, Spanish composer Lucas Vidal ("Fast & Furious 6") and Berlinale Panorama program manager Paz Lazaro will figure among seven jury members.

Hollywood-based Juan Carlos Arciniegas, the Colombian presenter of CNN en Espanol's Showbiz news seg, will co-emcee the Platinos, along with Mexican singer-actress Alessandro Rosaldo who made her big-screen debut in "Instructions," playing the devious ex-wife's equally devious lawyer.

In a sweep which underscores the recent range of Latin American film-making, further long-list best pic entries include Alicia Scherson's Sundance player "The Future," a reflection on femme empowerment in a man's world, Cannes 2013's best director and Un Certain Talent winners – both Mexican: Amat Escalante's "Heli" and Diego Quemada-Diez's merciless immigration drama "La jaula de oro" – and Dominga Sotomayor's understated family drama "Thursday Till Sunday," which scooped a Rotterdam Tiger.

Running an equally ample gamut of styles, the Platino submissions takes in high art in the neo-noir "The Last Time I Saw Macao," from Portugal's Joao Rui Guerra, to the oddball comedy of "All About the Feathers," from Costa Rica's Neto Villalobos, Andres Baiz's Colombian political drama "Roa," "So Much Water," an intimate family tale from Uruguay's Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge, Ricardo Darin-starring crime thriller "Thesis on a Homicide," from Argentina's Hernan Goldfrid, and a rumbustious, f/x-pumped horror comedy, "Witching & Bitching," courtesy of Spain's Alex de la Iglesia.

The Best Picture long-list cut also includes eight 2014 Foreign-Language Oscar submissions. The best-known: Lucia Puenzo's multi-prized "The German Doctor" (Argentina), a portrait of evil, chronicling an unrepentant Josef Mengele's sojourn in Patagonia; Kleber Mendonca Filho's Rio Fest topper, "Neighboring Sounds" (Brazil), announcing a major new art pic talent; "Heli" (Mexico), a no-holds-held portrait of drug cartel violence impinging one family; and late 50s divorcee portrait "Gloria"(Chile), which won actress Paulina Garcia a Berlin Silver Bear.

Lesser-known Oscar entries from smaller countries might deliver surprises, if there are any, when Platino nominations are announced March 10 in Mexico City.

Among them, Javier Andrade's rights-of-passage drama "The Porcelain Horse" (Ecuador), about two brothers' freebase-fuelled downward spiral, was a home-turf hit; from Venezuela, Luis and Andres Rodriguez's "Breach in the Silence" features a star turn by Vanessa Di Quattro as a suffering deaf 19-year-old; from the Dominican Republic, Ronni Castillo's "Who's the Boss?" is a womanizer-meets man-eater romcom, Peruvian Adrian Saba's "The Cleaner" a slightly futuristic post-plague relationship drama between a loner and an orphaned boy.

With national selectors seeking to spread candidatures, Uruguay's Oscar submission "Anina," a winsome coming-of-age tale, and two other frontrunners in the Platinos' animated feature category – Juan Jose Campanella's Argentine table-soccer fantasy "Foosball" and Brazilian history snap-shot "Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury," from Luiz Bolognesi  – didn't make the best pic cut.

Covering eight categories – picture, direction, screenplay, original score, actor, actress, animated feature and documentary, the Platino nominations will be five for picture, actor and actress, three for remaining categories.

What exactly the Platinos aim to achieve is another matter.

Their ambition is not in doubt. The Platino gala's brevity – just one-hour forty minutes – and limited number of categories mark it apart from the Oscars, Platino Prizes general manager Miguel Angel Benzal said at a Friday presentation of the Platino Awards in Madrid.

Designed by Javier Mariscal, who co-directed the Oscar-nommed animated feature "Chico and Rita," the art-deco-style Platino statuette, a female figure offering up a globe with Latin America right and center, has a sexiness which most pundits fail to detect in the weighty Oscar trophy.

Yet, introducing the Awards, EGEDA president and Platino Awards exec prexy Enrique Cerezo recalled the Louis B. Meyer-organized dinner at the Ambassador Hotel in 1927, which sparked the creation of Hollywood's AMPAS. Then – only slightly tongue-in-cheek – he recalled a 2013 meet at the InterContinental Medellin that marked the creation of the Platino Awards, unveiled last November in Colombia (picture).

Ibero-American national film industries released 701 features over 2013. Apart from its smallest territories, it is now distribution and sales, not production levels that mark their biggest challenges, FIPCA VP Ignacio Rey observed in Madrid.

Latin America has already produced multiple answers: the Ventana Sur Latin American film mart, a joint venture of the Cannes Film Market and Argentina's INCAA Film Institute, which has galvanized international sales on Latin American movies; film agency Cinema do Brasil's grants to sales agents and distributors who handle Brazilian films.

In the ultimate analysis, it is deep market forces that drive commercial change, such as pan-Latin American pay TV players – HBO Latin America, Moviecity, now the Sundance Channel – paying top dollar for Latin American movies to add exclusive original content to their skeds, a move which is driving the pan-regional circulation of Latin American films.

If working in the same direction as market forces, public intervention can, however, accelerate change.

High up among the Platinos' large ambitions is the creation of a Latin American star system. Ibero-American celebs, such as they are, usually emerge via actors' excelling in  important roles in breakout Spanish or Latin American movies – think Ricardo Darin, Penelope Cruz – or Hollywood hits: Antonio Banderas.

The presence of such high-profile figures as Rosaldo, a Televisa novela star and real-life wife of Eugenio Derbez, are vital as the Platino Awards seek to tie down the TV contracts essential for a show whose international success will be driven in part by star presence, media coverage and TV eyeballs.

So far, Panama's Telemetro, owned by local conglom Medcom Corporacion, and pubcaster TVE's overseas satellite feed, TVE Internacional, have signed up to transmit the Platinos; Platino organizers are also in talks with Televisa and Univision, said Benzal.

Traditionally driven by local blockbusters and social-issue fest faves, Latin America's film industries aren't exactly associated with glam wham. Spain's Goya Awards are best known – for good or bad – for sectoral or political protest, channeling the concerns of an oft-crisis-racked industry and popular discontent.

But stars are vital for co-production and Ibero-American co-productions are increasing, and they are highly important for some countries, such as Spain, as ICAA Spanish Film Institute director Susana de la Sierra underscored Friday.

Aiming to ante up Ibero red carpet glitz, the Platinos mark a bold new play by one of the world's fastest-growing regional industries.


'12 Years A Slave' Telling Voters "It's Time" – But How Will It Resonate?

By Pete Hammond, Deadline.com

"It's Time".

That's the message seen for the past few weeks on the 12 Years A Slave billboard as you drive on to the 20th Century Fox lot. And since the film earned nine Oscar nominations it has frequently been the slogan of choice for the Fox Searchlight contender in  newspaper and television ads.  A highly emotional close-up of star Chiwetel Ejiofor as the man forced into slavery and just two words to accompany it: "It's Time".

So is it resonating with voters? Are they paying attention? And how do you interpret the message, clearly aimed at Academy voters, that the studio is trying to send for its Best Picture nominee?

It's Time for a serious film about slavery to win Best Picture?

It's Time for any film about the black experience to win Best Picture?

It's Time for a film with a largely black cast, theme, black director and screenwriter to win?

It's Time those Academy members who have resisted seeing it, because they think it's too brutal, stick their screener in their DVD player and watch.

Whichever way you look at it, it's an effective and simple way of getting the film's message across. Two words, that's all.

The ad not only can be interpreted as shining a light on a very dark period in American history, it also shines a light on the Academy's fairly dismal record of awarding its top honor to any movie about the black experience. In fact there has been only one Best Picture winner in the 85 years the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been handing out Oscars that even remotely qualifies in this regard. In 1968, In The Heat Of The Night , a murder mystery set against the racial divide in a small Southern town, won Best Picture and four other Oscars just a few days after the assassination of Martin Luther King (the ceremony was even postponed two days out of respect). The votes were in before the King assassination, but it seemed then that "It's Time" would have been an appropriate way to describe that victory. However, outside of lead actor Sidney Poitier — who also co-starred in another racially themed Best Pic nominee that year, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner —  this movie  featured a largely white cast, white producer, screenwriter and director (Norman Jewison).

12 Years A Slave makes a much bigger statement: The film has been honored widely with Best Picture awards from the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the Producers Guild (in a tie with Gravity), and most recently BAFTA, but the victories have been narrow (it went 1 for 7 at the Globes, 2 for 10 at BAFTA and 3 for 13 at the CCMAs). Co-producer/director Steve McQueen has made impassioned speeches at all of them, though apparently it's not time for a black director to win as he has lost consistently to Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron in that category at most precursor awards (ironically, there was a Picture/Director split the year of In The Heat Of The Night, with The Graduate's Mike Nichols winning the directing awards over Heat's Jewison).

The bigger question now is how effective this new ad strategy will be. For those voters who are even paying attention to this award season's onslaught of advertising (and most of the contenders have been adopting slogans, from Nebraska's "Dream Big" to The Wolf Of Wall Street's "The Movie Of Our Time" to Philomena's "The Most Loved Movie Of The Year") will they respond to 12 Years A Slave's two little words, even subconsciously? Or do they rebel against any overt suggestion that "it's time" for anything but what they personally believe is the Best Picture of the Year? After all, voters might believe "it's time" for a science fiction film to finally win Best Picture and vote for Gravity. Or they might feel "it's time" for David O. Russell and vote for American Hustle after Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter brought him so close in recent years. Or maybe "it's time" for a movie about older people, so they vote for Nebraska. After all a lot of Oscar voters are old. Younger members might feel "it's time" for a love story between a guy and his mobile device to win and vote for Her. 

12 Years A Slave  is undeniably an important film and that seems to me the key overall message Searchlight is sending. And they are trying to keep it pertinent to these times. Even though the film is about a specific story set in the mid-1800′s slave-trading in many forms continues to this day. 12 Years A Slave is trying to spark discussion about that  too.  Today the studio even sent a media alert that the movie will have a special screening Febraury 26th (the day after Oscar voting ends)  at the United Nations Headquarters  in New York , followed by an address by McQueen to the United Nations diplomatic community . The director recently met with United States U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power  and has become a patron of the Organization 'Anti-Slavery International'. The release says the event is part of the activities for the Commemoration of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This kind of thing isn't new. Every year many Best Picture contenders try to raise the level of discourse. Just look at what Philomena has done for issues about the Catholic church and opening up information about adoptions.  The real Philomena Lee and the film's Oscar-nominated Steve Coogan even met with the Pope and had a photo opp and Vatican screening for God's sake! I recall in 2009 the once consumer-driven Joe Popcorn-style campaigns for the top contenders Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds turned very serious as final voting approached. Avatar's campaign started stressing its environmental credentials. Locker, sold more as an action war film on initial release, started putting its filmmakers on panels with experts exploring the effects of the Iraq War. Basterds replaced the swastika on its ads with a Star Of David and screened at the Museum Of Tolerance.

In the past three years, the Best Picture winner has strayed from heavyweight issues with the likes of The King's Speech, The Artist and Argo triumphing. So is it time  for 12 Years A Slave to bring back a social conscience? Guess we will find out the answer to that March 2nd when that final envelope is opened at the 86th annual Academy Awards. Right now though It's Time to vote, Academy members. And in this incredibly tight and competitive year it will be interesting to see what message you send.


CNN Latino Shutting Down a Year After Launch

By Luis E. Palacios, Miami Herald

CNN Latino is shutting down just a year after its launch, the network announced Wednesday.

The eight-hour syndicated news and entertainment block in Spanish-language it provided to local stations will end later this month.

"CNN Latino was a bold effort to continue CNN's commitment to the U.S. Hispanic marketplace. Unfortunately, despite the great efforts of many talented people, CNN Latino was not able to fulfill our business expectations and we are discontinuing the programming this month," a CNN spokesperson said in a statement.

An unknown number of staffers will lose their jobs.

CNN Latino debuted as part of Time Warner 's effort to create a national television network in Spanish. Their goal was to reach 65 percent of U.S. Hispanic households through a series of alliances with premium membership in specific markets, with a high local content programming.


Why Comcast's Time Warner Cable Purchase Could Choke Internet Access

By Brent Lang, The Wrap

Comcast's deal to acquire Time Warner Cable would give the communications giant unprecedented control over America's broadband network, allowing it to serve as gatekeeper to the internet, according to critics of the deal announced last week.

If regulators approve the $45.2 billion purchase, Comcast will service one-third of U.S. broadband households and almost half of the bundle market for internet, television and phone service.

The specter of one company monopolizing the digital lanes the country uses to access the web has open internet advocates spoiling for a fight. They warn that if a deal is allowed to go through, Comcast will have the power to stifle innovation, making the path steeper for the next Google or Facebook. They are betting that the same community that rallied to prevent the passage of anti-piracy legislation such as SOPA and PIPA will get engaged again.

"We hope that the grassroots network that was activated and motivated by SOPA and PIPA and net neutrality will see that these issues are all connected with what Comcast is doing," Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, told TheWrap. "This is not a business story. This is a democracy  story. It's about how does Comcast entrench itself at the nexus of all of the big debates of our day and position itself as the dominant force in determining what we read or watch or download."

Activists such as Aaron contend that Comcast will be able to levy higher fees on companies to get faster connections to customers and will have the power as a web service provider to favor certain content, in essence creating a tiered internet system. That concern has been magnified by last month's  U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling that overturned the Federal Communications Commission's 2010 net neutrality regulations.

"Any business that requires lots of bits or video is at risk," said Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, former Obama administration technology advisor and columnist for Bloomberg View. "The country's largest cable operator is in a position to thwart the development of new jobs and new services that depend on high capacity communications and that's a terrible risk to the country's future."

Comcast, which own NBCUniversal, is the rare internet service and cable provider that it also a content creator, meaning it could favor its channels and services such as Streampix, its version of Netflix, or its home security system over the high capacity services of others.

"If we re-establish the gatekeeper control in a digital world that we had in an analog one, all sorts of problems will emerge," Michael Bracy, partner in the government affairs firm Bracy Tucker Brown & Valanzano and co-founder of the Future of Music Coalition, said. "Anything that moves the internet farther into corporate control threatens the ability of new economic models to emerge."

Comcast counters that the risks of internet domination are greatly exaggerated. It notes that it is currently the only cable provider subject to the FCC's net neutrality regulations, barring it from favoring its digital content over competitors.  When Comcast made its deal for NBC Universal in 2011, it agreed to embrace the FCC's open internet rules until January 2018, whether or not they were overturned in court. It may agree to extend that deadline in order to get approval for its latest merger.

"Time Warner Cable is not subject to net neutrality rules, but these rules apply to any company we acquire," Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president for government communications for Comcast Corporation, told TheWrap.  "These groups always say terrible things are going to happen and the reality turns out to be much different."

Should Comcast defy open internet guidelines after its agreement with the government terminates it will take a big risk.  Fundamentally altering the status quo on the internet would invite government scrutiny and potentially could lead to stricter regulations, something Comcast and other service providers would like to avoid.

Yet open internet advocates note that Comcast's agreement to adhere by the FCC's rules has an expiration date and its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and its 8 million subscribers does not.

If that day comes and companies are forced to pay more to have their content flow unimpeded along Comcast's pipes it will make the internet less meritocratic. Companies such as Google or Netflix have the resources to pony up for better service, but the next generation of entrepreneurs may not and that uncertainty, in turn, could make venture capitalists and financiers less willing to back digital projects.

"I'm really concerned with having a marketplace set up so new entrants can come in and thrive and that may not be able to get done in a payola internet," John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, said. "It's important not to be too utopian about the internet – it has its own set of problems — but I'll take openness and YouTube any day over public access TV, which was the best the cable companies could do when they controlled everything."

The sheer size of Comcast will give it inordinate leverage over content providers who need broadband access to move goods, putting them at a competitive disadvantage, open internet advocates claim.

"The worst nightmare for any provider of any goods is to have only one potential buyer," said Stuart Benjamin, a professor at Duke University School of Law and co-director of its Center for Innovation Policy.  "If you only have one buyer that buyer has you over a barrel. With this merger you have a massive company that controls all of the broadband access to a larger number of customers. That's an enormous amount of buying power. The more any company bulks ups, the stronger its negotiating power will be."

In a conference call with media last week, Comcast's chief lobbyist David Cohen deflected claims that merging with Time Warner Cable would create a negotiating juggernaut, noting that the two companies had never operated in the same geographic region before the deal.

"The difference between having 22 million customers and having 30 million customers, in a market that has more than a 100 million customers is simply not going to be enormous in terms of our leverage around programming," Cohen said.

Those 8 million customers are shaping up to be the focal point of a battle royale pitting cable and internet advocates against each other. Get ready for round one.


Fox Picks up Sergio Aguero's 'Red Band Society'


Producer Sergio Aguero (The Dry Land, Y Tu Mama Tambien) has teamed up with writer  Margaret Nagle (Boardwalk Empire),  Amblin Television and ABC Studios to begin production on the pilot episode of "Red Band Society" which received a pilot commitment from Fox last November.  Nagle has penned the script and will be producing along with Aguero.  

"Red Band Society" is based on the Spanish series "Polseres Vermelles" created by Albert Espinosa for Spain's TV3. Set in a hospital, the hour long comedic soap centers around a group of seriously ill teenagers.  Bound together because of their illness, the group become unlikely friends facing and sharing the challenges of having to fight the boredom of being cooped up in a hospital for such long periods of time.

Aguero, who brought the project to William Morris Endeavor will be executive producing along with executive produces Steven Spielberg, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank. Original series producers of Polseres Vermelles, brothers Carlos and Julio Fernandez are co-executive producing.

Polseres Vermelles, the original series  continues to air on TV3 in Spain garnering better ratings in its second year than the first.  "I was blown away by the humanity and the humor of the show — how realistic and life-inspiring it was," Aguero told Variety last year when the project was first announced.  "It's funny but it's realistic," he added.

Aguero is also currently also working on another TV project at Universal TV.   Aztec Warrior the film he executive produced in 2012 starring Luis Guzman, Eugenio Derbez, Nadine Velazquez and Terry Crews, set to be released by Pantelion Films later this year.


Call for Entries: Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival

The 2014 Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival is now accepting submissions of films made by or about Latinos from the U.S. and abroad (Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, Caribbean). 

We showcase films with a distinctly Latin American/Latino experience or point of view.

Short and feature films, fiction and documentaries are welcome. All genres - from comedy to drama to science fiction to experimental. 

Deadline to submit: May 10, 2014
Rules, regulations and submission info available on the festival website


Univision Launches Digital Content House and VarietyLatino.com

By Alex Stedman and Francesca Bacardi, Variety

In line with its current multiple digital offerings, Univision is launching a new digital content house called La Fabrica UCI, with the goal of creating, scripting and producing original video for new digital brands and Univision digital platforms.

The new production arm will have facilities in New York and Miami, and create content through partnerships, acquisitions and in-house content development. Boris Gartner, vice president and general manager of La Fabrica UCI, will lead the venture, reporting to Univision New and Fusion prexy Isaac Lee and senior VP and general manager Mehul Nagrani.

"In the past three years Univision has transformed from a niche network to a leading multiplatform media company with a strong focus on digital," said Lee in a statement. "La Fabrica UCI speaks to our ongoing commitment to delivering the best and most innovative content in Spanish and English across platforms."

"La Fabrica UCI will develop digital brands with alternative content offerings in both English and Spanish that will allow us to expand our audience and test new concepts developed with a digital-native audience in mind," add Gartner.

Its first long-form production is "Medicina Desconocida" ("Strange Medicine"), available on UVideos.com.

Univision is also embarking on the first digital partnership with Variety, Variety Latino, launching Feb. 27.

Univision Communications, Inc. and Variety Media are teaming up to launch "Variety Latino–Powered by Univision," a joint venture announced Monday that will focus on providing Spanish speakers across the U.S. with unparalleled coverage of all aspects of the global entertainment industry.

The content will be available via VarietyLatino.com, as well as across Univision's digital platforms, TV networks and local stations. The venture is slated to launch Feb. 27 and will be introduced the industry at an event in Los Angeles that day.

Addressing two of Latinos' hottest passion points – show business and celebrities – the multiplatform co-branded offering expands Univision's 360-degree strategy of providing the Univision experience everywhere its audience is.

"I am proud that Variety, an iconic brand in entertainment, is partnering with the most powerful voice for Hispanic content in America to deliver in-depth coverage and access to the biggest stories in the world of entertainment, all day on every device," said Michelle Sobrino, publisher of Variety. "And as the first Hispanic publisher of Variety, I am gratified to be part of an organization that continues to break ground in its coverage of the industry."

"This partnership brings together two trusted brands," said Isaac Lee, president of news for Univision Communications and CEO of Fusion. "No one knows show business better than Variety, and no other media company can even come close to Univision's undisputed ability to connect with and engage Hispanic audiences."

Univision and Variety Media currently collaborate on a multiplatform entertainment segment for the Univision television network's top-rated newsmagazine "Primer Impacto."

This media alliance will launch in time for the 2014 Academy Awards and will offer the most comprehensive coverage of the event in Spanish.


Benicio Del Toro's 'Paradise Lost' Gets North American Distribution

By Rebecca Ford, The Hollywood Reporter

RADiUS-TWC has nabbed North American distribution rights to Paradise Lost, the drama starring Benicio Del Toro as the famous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, from Pathe.

RADiUS is planning for a 2014 release for the film, which is Andrea Di Stefano's feature directorial debut.

The pic also stars Josh Hutcherson as a young man who finds himself pulled into the family business after marrying Escobar's niece. Brady Corbet and newcomer Claudia Traisac also star.

The film was produced by Dimitri Rassam and co-produced by Romain Le Grand on behalf of Pathe and Frédérique Dumas on behalf of Orange Studio. Miguel Angel Faura from Roxbury (Spain) and uMedia (Belgium) also co-produced.

Quinn, TWC's EVP, acquisitions Dan Guando and Janego negotiated the deal with Moritz Borman and Pathe and Orange Studio.

"We have been tracking this project for months and could not be more energized by Benicio's outstanding performance and the star making turn by Claudia Traisac," said a statement from RADiUS co-presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego. "Di Stefano has delivered the goods and we feel privileged to be working alongside him on this fantastic film."

Quinn, TWC's EVP, acquisitions Dan Guando and Janego negotiated the deal with Moritz Borman and Pathe and Orange Studio.

At the Berlin Film Festival, TWC's Radius has already picked up Danish werewolf pic When Animals Dream (Når Dyret Drømmer), and, along with Dimension, Radius-TWC made a preemptive move on Salma Hayek thriller Everly.


Deadline Approaching: Creative Capital Awards in Moving Image and Visual Arts

Acting as a catalyst for the development of exceptional and imaginative ideas, Creative Capital supports artists whose work is provocative, timely and relevant; who are deeply engaged with their art forms and demonstrate a rigorous commitment to their craft; who are boldly original and push the boundaries of their genre; and who create work that has the potential to reshape the cultural landscape.

This year, the New York City-based artist support organization is accepting Letters of Inquiry for awards in the areas of Moving Image (formerly Film/Video) and Visual Arts.

1) Moving Image projects may include animation, experimental film or video, installation, interdisciplinary projects, non-traditional documentary, or narrative. Projects may be intended for projection, hand-held devices, the Web, television, galleries, etc.

2) Visual Arts projects may include architecture/design, contemporary crafts, installation, interdisciplinary projects, moving image, painting, photo-based work, public art, sculpture, or works on paper. Projects may be site-specific or intended for display in galleries, on the Web, etc.

Awardees will receive up to $50,000 in direct support for their project and advisory services valued at more than $40,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., at least 25 years old, and working as artists with at least five years of professional experience. Applicants may not be full-time students.

Deadline is February 28.
For complete program guidelines and applications instructions, see the Creative Capital website


Call for Submissions: IFP's 2014 Independent Filmmaker Labs

IFP's unique yearlong mentorship program supports first-time feature directors when they need it most:  through the completion, marketing and distribution of their films. Focusing exclusively on low-budget features (<$1million), this highly immersive program provides filmmakers with the technical, creative and strategic tools necessary to launch their films - and their careers.

Through the Labs, IFP works to ensure that talented emerging voices receive the support, resources, and industry exposure necessary to reach audiences. Open to all first time feature documentary and narrative directors with films in post-production. Twenty projects (10 documentaries and 10 narratives) are selected for the annual program which has three components: the Time Warner Completion Lab in the spring, the Marketing Lab in September, and the Distribution Lab in December. All Lab projects also automatically participate in the Project Forum of IFP’s Independent Film Week.

Lab alumni projects include Stacie Passon's Concussion (RADiUS-TWC), Alexandre Moors' Blue Caprice (Sundance Selects), Penny Lane's Our Nixon (CNN Films and Cinedigm), Daniel Patrick Carbone's Hide Your Smiling Faces (Tribeca Film), Lotfy Nathan's 12 O'Clock Boys (Oscilloscope), Lucy Mulloy's Una Noche (Sundance Selects), Omar Mullick & Bassam Tariq's These Birds Walk (Oscilloscope), Dee Rees' Pariah (Focus Features), and Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Variance Films).

Upcoming deadlines for the 2014 Labs are March 7 (Documentary) and April 4 (Narrative). For more info and to apply, click here .


Hollywood's Diversity Problem

By Dave McNary, Variety

Minorities and women are falling far short in making inroads into influential Hollywood positions compared with the actual demographics of the U.S. population, a new UCLA study shows.

"This disconnect does not bode well for future of the Hollywood industry," said Darnell Hunt, directors of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies. "Women already constitute slightly more than half of the U.S. population and more than a third of the population is currently minority and the population continues to diversify at a dizzying rate."

The percentages of female and minority actors, writers, directors and producers in films and TV ranges from less than 10% to 50% of their actual population percentage, according to the study.

"The report paints a picture of an industry that is woefully out of touch with an emerging America, an America that's becoming more diverse by the day," Hunt said.

The study, dubbed "The 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect," also asserts that movies with relatively diverse casts generate above average performance at the box office and that TV shows reflecting U.S. diversity excel in ratings.

"Hollywood does pretty well financially right now, but it could do a lot better if it were better reflecting the diversity of America," said Hunt.

The UCLA analysis was based on the top 172 American-made movies from 2011 and more than 1,000 TV airing on 68 cable and broadcast networks during the 2011–12 season. The center — which has been performing similar studies for the Writers Guild of America for the past decade — said that Wednesday's report is part of a series of analyses it will perform to track diversity in the TV-film industry along with identifying best practices for widening the pipeline for underrepresented groups.

Among the findings:

– Minority lead actors in film and TV were underrepresented by a factor of more than three-to-one — less than one-third the rate that would be expected based on their proportion of the population. In broadcast TV comedies and dramas, they were underrepresented by a factor of seven-to-one.

– Minority film directors were underrepresented by a factor of three-to-one; film writers and creators of comedies and dramas on cable TV, were underrepresented by a factor of five-to-one; in broadcast TV, minority creators of comedies and dramas were underrepresented by a factor of nine-to-one.

– Women achieved proportionate representation in broadcast TV, where they appeared as leading actors in 52% of comedies and dramas in 2011–12. But they were underrepresented by a factor of 12-to-one as film directors and by a factor of three-to-one in film writing.

The study also blasted the three top talent agencies — CAA, WME and UTA — as contributing little to promoting diversity as they represented more than two-thirds of the writers, directors and lead actors in the 172 leading films in 2011, with less than 10% of that talent being minority.

In broadcast TV, the three agencies represented more than two-thirds of show creators and more than half of the leads, and minorities accounted for only 1.4% of these creators and 5.5% of these leads during the 2011–12 broadcast season.

The report also noted that no minority-directed film from 2011 won an Oscar and no film with a minority lead actor won an Oscar; only 5% of Emmy-winning comedies and dramas on broadcast TV in 2011-12 were minority-created with "Grey's Anatomy" accounting for that entire share.

"Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes, who was honored for her diversity efforts with a Betsy Beers last month by the Directors Guild of America, said in her acceptance speech, "It's fairly shameful that there's a lack of diversity in Hollywood in 2014."

The report asserted that films with a relatively high amount of minority involvement (21% to 30%)  achieved the highest median global box office receipts at $160.1 million while films with less than 10% percent achieved a median of $68.5 million.

"The situation is better than it was in the 1950s, but Hollywood is falling further and further behind," Hunt said. "America is infinitely more diverse than it was. So the gap has gotten bigger between where America is going and where the industry is going."


What Would Comcast - Time Warner Cable Merger Mean for Hollywood?

By David Lieberman, Deadline.com

Folks in the movie business sometimes argue with me when I tell them that the most powerful executive in Hollywood lives in Philadelphia. But that debate should end if Brian Roberts' Comcast buys Time Warner Cable. With 30M cable TV subscribers, the colossus based in the City of Brotherly Love would have incalculable power to influence Big Media and entertainment generally. Here are a few potential flash points:

Home video sales.
Comcast recently became an important ally for studios that want to sell downloads of movies and TV shows (called EST, for electronic sell-through), their best hope to revive a business that has struggled as consumers lost interest in DVDs. DespicableMe2posterInternet services such as Amazon and Apple's iTunes were fine. But Comcast stunned some studio execs late last year when it began to sell EST movies and TV shows to its cable subscribers and beat iTunes and Amazon in sales of Universal's Despicable Me 2. "In the first 2 months of their service, relying only on the content of three studios, including Lionsgate, Comcast has captured 15% of the EST market and expanded the business," Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said last week. He added that "there are ongoing conversations with other [pay TV providers]. You will see them enter the EST space. It's been too successful for Comcast." One key question is how much of each sale goes to the studio vs Comcast, which also owns Universal Studios. Comcast's hand in these negotiations becomes much stronger if it controls nearly a third of all pay TV homes including New York and Los Angeles.

Netflix and streaming video.  Studios now depend on the cash that they collect when they license movie and TV rights to these Internet-based services. But Comcast has a lot of leverage to derail them — and incentives to do so to prevent cord-cutting. While Comcast says it will abide by the FCC's net neutrality rules, Netflix and its rivals would have the air knocked out of them if the biggest broadband provider promoted usage based pricing, effectively leading consumers to watch the meter whenever they stream video. Comcast also could rebuff Netflix's efforts to become part of the pay TV ecosystem: CEO Reed Hastings wants to give his subscribers the ability to access the service through distributors' set top boxes. Comcast also can use a variety of techniques to slow Netflix streams. "While investors and politicians spend significant time and energy focused on Net Neutrality, we believe peering and interconnection are the issues actually impacting content creators, distributors, [content delivery networks] and consumers today," BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield noted this week.

Virtual pay TV. Sony and Verizon have raised a lot of eyebrows with their plans to create services that would use the Internet to transmit pay TV channels, now only available from cable and satellite companies. In theory that could pose a threat to Comcast, especially if they can offer a lower priced service with fewer services — for example, one that doesn't include sports channels. But there's no reason why Comcast couldn't top them by taking advantage of the lower than average rates it pays for programming to offer a similar, national Internet service.

Retransmission consent.
Last night CBS chief Les Moonves said he expects to collect $2B a year from pay TV distributors in 2020, up from his previous forecast for $1B by 2017. His optimism was easy to understand after CBS won a big rate increase from Time Warner Cable even after the operator allowed CBS stations and channels to go dark on its systems for 32 days last summer. But ask yourself: How would the contract impasse have played out if Moonves faced a merged Comcast and Time Warner Cable? That's an important question for all broadcasters as ad sales flatten, and could decline as online video services including Google's YouTube try to win some of the business that now goes to TV. They're counting on their ability to force Comcast and other pay TV providers to shell out ever rising fees to keep airing TV's most popular programs. Those payments amounted to about $3.3B last year, and are expected to hit $7.6B in 2019, SNL Kagan estimates.

Other programming costs and issues.
Big media companies including Disney, Fox, Viacom, Time Warner, and Discovery are primarily in the business of packaging and selling pay TV channels. And they've driven hard bargains with distributors when they negotiate payments — both for conventional platforms and, more recently, for TV Everywhere streaming rights. But they may have to temper their expectations when they negotiate with Comcast after a merger. As the industry's largest provider, it likely pays the lowest prices for channels and presumably could apply those rates to TWC customers after a deal. Execs this morning declined to say how much programming costs would figure into the expected $1.5B in operating synergies that Comcast says it will see. Still, programmers will have to think doubly hard about the price increases that they want when they negotiate with Philadelphia.

Further consolidation.
If Comcast can merge with TWC, then just let your imagination fly. Charter and its largest shareholder, John Malone's Liberty Media, showed with their TWC offer that they're prepared to bulk up. Will Cox or Cablevision be next? And how about DirecTV and Dish Network? The satellite companies have said that they'd like to merge but feared that the FCC or antitrust regulators would reject a deal that reduces competition in a business that's particularly important in rural areas not served by cable. That sentiment could change if they can make the case that they need to merge to keep up with Comcast.


Hollywod Networking Breakfast with Oscar-Winning Producer Edward Saxon, Feb. 27

Networking Breakfast offers a special "Pre-Oscar Breakfast Bash" on Thurs, Feb. 27, 2014. Take a "selfie" on the Red Carpet, cast your pre-Oscar ballot to win prizes and VIP breakfast perks and network with Academy Award-winning producer and guest speaker, Edward Saxon.

Thursday, Feb. 27, from 8:00-10:30am
Raleigh Studios
5300 Melrose Ave, LA, CA 90038.

Q&A - PICK THE BRAIN OF ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING PRODUCER, EDWARD SAXON. Edward has been making critically-acclaimed, successful box office feature films for 25 years. As principal of his own independent production company, he has developed and produced films with FOX UNIVERSAL, WARNER BROTHERS, COLUMBIA, PARAMOUNT, and DISNEY STUDIOS. Saxon also works with numerous Independent financiers and distributors, including signing a multi-year pact with PARTICIPANT MEDIA (Lincoln, North Country), one of the leading independent distribution companies in the film market. Saxon's films combined have grossed over $700M at the box office worldwide and garnered 21 nominations and 8 Academy Awards(R). Saxon won his first Oscar for the Silence of the Lambs, which to date remains one of only three films in the history of American cinema to achieve the distinction of winning in all five major categories.

READ FULL BIO OF CURRENT & OTHER CREDITS, Reservations, Policies & Guidelines, VIP Breakfast Prizes and Private Meetings with Breakfast Speakers Here: http://HollywoodNetworkingBreakfast.com. It's your responsibility to read/be aware of our policies & guidelines.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED: $5 DISCOUNT off the $45 on-time reservation price for FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES (only) from THIS list -- Pay ONLY $40 per person (full buffet breakfast) - mail-in only (deadlines apply). Reservation information available online here.


Havana Film Festival New York, Apr. 3-11

Mark your calendar for the 15th Havana Film Festival New York (HFFNY), taking place April 3-11, 2014 and showcasing over 45 films, including World, U.S. and N.Y. premieres from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino filmmakers in the U.S.

15th HAVANA FILM FESTIVAL NEW YORK
APRIL 3-11, 2014

First Friday! HFFNY kick off at the Bronx Museum - March 28 @ 6:00 pm
Opening Night Premiere at Directors Guild Theatre (DGA) - April 3 @ 6:30 pm
A tribute to recently deceased Cuban filmmaker Daniel Díaz Torres

WHAT: 15th Havana Film Festival New York (HFFNY), showcasing over 45 films, including World, U.S. and N.Y. premieres from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino filmmakers in the U.S. Participating countries are: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Venezuela and the United States. All films are subtitled in English.

WHEN: April 3-11, 2014

WHERE: HFFNY FESTIVAL VENUES
Directors Guild Theater – 110 West 57th St. (Bet. 6th & 7th Aves.), Manhattan
Quad Cinema - 34 West 13th Street (Bet. 5th & 6th Ave.), Manhattan
Museum of the Moving Image - 35th Ave. at 37th St., Astoria, Queens
The Bronx Museum of the Arts - 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St., The Bronx
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, NYU – 53 Washington Square South New York

WHY: HFFNY is the annual Latino film and cultural event that New Yorkers eagerly look forward to, premiering the latest Latino films by prominent and emerging cinema visionaries throughout the continent. The festival offers an international rainbow of award-winning films, retrospectives, and panel discussions with notable local and international directors, actors, and producers.  A full program and festival line-up will be available at www.hffny.com after March 3.

OPENING NIGHT
15th HFFNY opens on April 3 at 6:30 pm at the Directors Guild Theatre (DGA) with La Película de Ana, by Cuban director Daniel Díaz Torres. The film portrays through the use of humor and ironic overtones the story of Ana, an unlucky actress whose economic problems push her into prostitution. Leading actress Laura de la Uz will be present at the screening.

CLOSING NIGHT
15th HFFNY wraps up on April 11 at 6:30 pm at the Directors Guild Theatre (DGA) with the Havana Star Awards ceremony followed by the NY Premiere of Wakolda, the latest work by Argentine director Lucia Puenzo. Set in 1960, the film depicts Mengele during his exile in South America. Having adopting a new identity, he moves into a Patagonian hotel run by German-speaking Eva and her husband Enzo, where he becomes particularly interested in their daughter Lilith.

FIRST FRIDAY! AT THE BRONX MUSEUM OF THE ARTS
This popular event kicks off the festival on March 28 at 6:00 pm with the screening of The 100 Cuban Sones, by Cuban director Edesio Alejandro. In this documentary full of humor and authentic Cuban music, the 100 most relevant Cuban sones are merged into an album in an effort to portray the roots of this genre. A cinematic expedition, the film travels to far places throughout the island in search of son’s essence, exalting the main characters behind the rhythm.

HIGHLIGHTS OF 15TH HFFNY

•    Screenings of award-winning Latino films from the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano in Havana and other important international film festivals, competing for the Havana Star Prize.

•    HFFNY celebrates its 15th anniversary with a special showcase of the latest in Cuban cinema, including the newest works by Kiki Alvarez (Jirafas), Gerardo Chijona (Esther en Alguna Parte), Carlos Lechuga (Melaza), and Jorge Perugorria (Se Vende), as well as a selection of new works by young Cuban filmmakers.

•    A special program of Cuban archival films rarely screened in the U.S. and curated by Cuban film critic Luciano Castillo, Between Tumblers and Slates: The Impact of Music in the History of Cuban Cinema illustrates the influence of music in the island’s film industry.

•    An opportunity to meet actors, directors, and other international guests; participate in free panels and other special events; and watch films seldom screened in New York City.

FREE EVENTS & SCREENINGS
HFFNY offers free special events and screenings in partnership with renowned local cultural institutions such as The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Museum of the Moving Image, King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU, and more.

DISCOUNTS
HFFNY offers ticket discounts to students and senior citizens.


Industry Insights: First Amendment Protection When Using a Celebrity's Likeness

By Mark Litwak, Attorney at Law

Plaintiff Ricky Ross was a notorious drug lord in the 1980s who was indicted and convicted on drug trafficking charges. He was infamous for bringing crack cocaine to Los Angeles and eventually sold up to 3 million dollars' worth every day. Although he was illiterate, he was entrepreneurial and built a business empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including more than 30 real estate ventures and "legitimate" businesses, such as a custom tire and rims shop, beauty salon, and junk yard. 

In 1989, Ross was arrested in Ohio and charged with trafficking cocaine and was indicted on separate charges in Texas. He pled guilty to the charges and received lengthy sentences. While in prison, he helped to uncover a ring of "dirty cops," who planted evidence and framed innocent people using false evidence. His testimony helped to free approximately 120 wrongly convicted men and he was rewarded with a significantly reduced sentence, leading to his release from prison in 1994.

About six months after his release, Ross was arrested once again and convicted on fresh charges of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. While Ross was incarcerated, a reporter interviewed him and wrote a piece about his ties to the Nicaraguan Contras. As a result, there was widespread exposure regarding his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Cocaine from Nicaragua was given to Ross with the CIA's blessing, while Ross funded the anti-communist movement in Nicaragua. Journalist Gary Webb wrote a book called "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion" that chronicled these events.

While Ross was in jail, a former correctional officer by the name of William Leonard Roberts started using the name Rick Ross allegedly to help him sell his rap music. His lyrics frequently include fictional accounts of selling drugs and running a large scale cocaine operation. As a former correctional officer, Roberts was the antithesis of what is often lauded in the rap world. In order to gain street cred, he adopted a different persona and tried to hide his real background. He has released numerous albums which have achieved tremendous commercial success.

In 2006, plaintiff discovered that Roberts was using the name "Rick Ross," when he saw a magazine article about "up and coming" rappers. Ross had a lawyer write a cease and desist letter, but never received much of a response. After he was released from prison in 2009, he filed suit in 2010, first in federal court and later in state court. Ross claimed that Roberts misappropriated Ross' name and identity to further his rap music career. The former crime lord claims to have changed his ways and now wants to use his celebrity status to promote literacy and teach children not to repeat his mistakes. 

The right of publicity is the right that individuals have to control the use of their name and likeness. You cannot put a picture of another person on your spaghetti sauce without their permission. The right of publicity is typically exploited by celebrities, who earn large fees from endorsing products. A problem arises, however, when one person's publicity rights come in conflict with another person's rights under the First Amendment. Suppose a newspaper publisher wants to place a picture of Brad Pitt on the front page of its paper. Is his permission required? What if "60 Minutes" wants to broadcast an exposé of a corrupt politician? What if an author wants to write a critical biography of a celebrity?

In each of these instances, a person's name and likeness is being used on a "product" that is sold to consumers. However, products such as books, movies and plays are also forms of expression protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment allows journalists to freely write about others without their consent. Otherwise, subjects could prevent any critical reporting of their activities. When one person's right of publicity conflicts with another person's rights under the First Amendment, the courts have to decide whose rights will prevail.

California recognizes both a common law and statutory right of publicity. California Civil Code, § 3344 states:  "Any person who knowingly uses another's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods or services, without such person's prior consent ... shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof." However, there are exemptions for news, public affairs, sports and political campaigns.

When a use is newsworthy, or the use is in the context of a documentary, biography, or parody, the First Amendment will often protect the producer. In Hicks v. Casablanca Records,  , Casablanca Records made a movie called "Agatha" about mystery writer Agatha Christie. The film portrayed her as an emotionally unstable criminal. An heir brought suit alleging infringement of Christie's right of publicity. The court held that Casablanca's rights under the First Amendment were paramount to the estate's rights. The court reasoned that the First Amendment outweighed the right of publicity because the subject was a public figure, and the events portrayed were obviously fictitious.

However, the First Amendment does not always prevail over the right of publicity. In 1976, the Ohio Supreme Court discussed the right of publicity in Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. Here, Zacchini, known as the Human Cannonball, was videotaped without his consent while performing his act of being shot out of a canon. His performance was later broadcast on a television news program. The Ohio Supreme Court held that Zacchini's right of publicity was outweighed by the First Amendment. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding that the First Amendment did not insulate the defendant from liability for violating Zacchini's right of publicity where the defendant broadcast the plaintiff's entire act.

The outcome of these conflicts often turns on whether the use of a celebrity's name or likeness is "transformative." When artistic expression takes the form of a literal depiction or imitation of a celebrity for commercial gain, without adding any new expression, the right of publicity will likely be the paramount right. However, when a work contains significant creative elements it is more likely to be considered worthy of First Amendment protection, and less likely to interfere with the economic interests protected by the right of publicity.

In other words, the issue becomes whether the celebrity's likeness is one of the "raw materials" from which an original work is synthesized, or whether the depiction or imitation of the celebrity is the very sum and substance of the work in question. If a product containing a celebrity's likeness has been so transformed that it has become something new and original, and more the product of defendant's own expression rather than the celebrity's likeness,  then it will be considered protected expression.

In one case, an artist's drawings of the Three Stooges, which were little more than literal reproductions of their likenesses sold as lithographs and on T-shirts, were denied protection under the First Amendment. In another case, a court found that comic book illustrations depicting the musician brothers Johnny and Edgar Winter as half human and half worm were sufficiently transformative to qualify for First Amendment protection.

In the Rick Ross case, the California Court of Appeal found that Roberts created a celebrity identity using the name Rick Ross, a cocaine kingpin turned rapper. He composed music out of fictional tales of dealing drugs and other exploits — some of which related to Ricky Ross. However, the court found that he was not simply an imposter seeking to profit solely off the name and reputation of Ricky Ross.

While the trial court had granted Roberts' motion for summary judgment on the basis that Ross' claim was barred by statutes of limitation and the doctrine of laches, the Court of Appeal was not convinced that the trial court's rulings were correct. However, it found for Roberts based on a First Amendment defense. The court concluded "Using the name and certain details of an infamous criminal's life as basic elements, he [Roberts] created original artistic works."  The court explained: "A work is transformative if it adds 'new expression…The economic value of Roberts's work is reflected to a large extent by the number of CD's and records he sells. It can safely be assumed that when individuals purchase music, they generally do so in order to listen to music that they enjoy. It defies credibility to suggest that Roberts gained success primarily from appropriation of plaintiff's name and identity, instead of from the music and professional persona that he (and the other defendants) created.

In summary, the court found that Roberts' music and persona were much more than literal depictions of the real Rick Ross, and therefore were protected under the First Amendment.

About Mark Litwak:
Mark Litwak is a veteran entertainment attorney and producer's rep based in Beverly Hills, California. He is the author of six books including: Dealmaking in the Film and Television Industry, Contracts for the Film and Television Industry, and Risky Business: Financing and Distributing Independent Film. He is an adjunct professor at USC Gould School of Law, and the creator of the Entertainment Law Resources with lots of free information for filmmakers (www.marklitwak.com). He can be reached at law2@marklitwak.com

Mark will be conducting a one day seminar in New York City on April 25th, 2014 called Risky Business: Financing and Distributing Independent Films. To enroll click here: Volunteer Lawyers for the Art


The Athena List: The Best Unproduced Screenplays with Female Protagonists

By Lily Rothman, Time

The Black List - a yearly list of great scripts that are circulating in Hollywood but have not yet become movies - has a new gender-conscious cousin. After a 2011 study found that only about one-third of all characters in the top 100 films were women, the organizers of Athena Film Festival were motivated to create a parallel list, the Athena List, to highlight unproduced 3–5 screenplays featuring strong female protagonists. The first-ever batch of honorees will be fêted at the festival, Feb. 6–9, in New York City.

"If you follow Hollywood, you know the Black List and you know how it has become important in itself, being on this list," says Melissa Silverstein, a co-founder of the Athena Film Festival and editor of the site Women and Hollywood. "There seems to be a need out there to have a conversation about this lack. Hopefully it will spur people to think that you can make a movie about a woman running for office as easily as you can about a man running for office. You can make a movie about a woman musician as well as you can make a movie about a man musician. A lot of the time, people get stuck in what they're comfortable with. Our objective with the Athena List is to make people pay attention for a moment."

Silverstein says that the four screenplays on the inaugural list, announced here at TIME.com, all feature a female protagonist in a leadership role. They are:

On the Basis of Sex
, by Daniel Stiepleman: The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's early years, including her time in law school and her first big sexism case. "It's a really amazing portrait of a woman who was way ahead of her time," says Silverstein.

The Good Years, by Rachel Feldman and Adam Prince: The story of Lilly Ledbetter's life before she became famous for the equal-pay act that bears her name; Silverstein compares it to Norma Rae.

The Sky's the Limit: The Story of the Mercury 13, by Maria Burton, Gabrielle Burton, Ursula Burton and Jennifer Burton: A script, by four sisters, about the female astronauts who were prepared to go into space in NASA's early days but then kept earthbound due to their gender. "It's The Right Stuff but girls," Silverstein says. "It's a heartbreaking story."

Audrey's Run, by Emily Abt: The fictional tale of an African-American woman running for mayor of Boston, set in contemporary times.

The writers whose work has been selected say that it's important to remember gender. Rachel Feldman, of The Good Years, says that Hollywood needs the Athena List.

"People would literally say, 'Wow, what great writing but we can't make movies with female protagonists,'" she says. "For many years, people were comfortable just saying that. Agents would say to you, 'Can you turn the character into a man?'"

Daniel Stiepleman agrees. "[The Athena List] is one of those concepts that's so brilliant for its simplicity," he says. "Of course there are people looking for movies like this, especially actresses. Let's do the hard work of looking for them first."

The four listed screenplays are in varying stages of development — for example, Abt says Paula Patton is attached to Audrey's Run — and the hope among the list's curators is that the attention brought to the list will help get them into theaters sooner rather than later, nudging the needle on those statistics about how many films feature women as protagonists. Filmmaker Maria Burton cites a positive example of something parallel managing to get that job done: the movie she's currently directing (A Sort of Homecoming) was a gig she got thanks to the producer deciding to look to the Alliance of Women Directors for someone to work with. The Athena List, Burton says, is another way that a "mindful approach" to gender in filmmaking can help with the problem of underrepresentation.

Silverstein hopes that recent hype over female-led films, from Frozen to Gravity, is more than a fad. "You have to continue to build on them. It can't just go away," she says. "The fact that we have two more Hunger Games movies is good, but what's going to come after?"

That question has yet to be answered, but the Athena List points in one possible direction — and Silverstein's happy to talk about that path. "I spend so much time at my blog writing depressing things about the business. Some days you want to beat your head against the wall," she says. "It's uplifting to finally be writing something that's good news about women in Hollywood."


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