Bethlehem. A week before Christmas, there was only a handful of tourists snapping photos of the huge decorated tree in Manger Square, with its strings of red and white lights. The large plaza in front of the Church of the Nativity was nearly empty except for a handful of visiting clergy.
An "immersive" Princess Diana documentary offering an "origin story" for the British royal family's latest woes was among the opening night movies at the online Sundance film festival Thursday.
Sundance, which celebrates independent cinema, was forced to go virtual for a second year running by the Omicron variant of Covid-19's surge across the United States.
The pandemic has forced filmmakers to innovate, and "The Princess" is one of several Sundance movies constructed entirely from archive footage.
Without a narrator, it transports viewers back to Diana's tumultuous marriage to Prince Charles, and explores an obsessed media and public's impact on those events via contemporaneous footage.
"It is a kind of Shakespearean tragedy, but it's one that lots of us lived through, and actually actively participated in," said director Ed Perkins.
While many previous documentaries tried to "get inside Diana's head", Perkins focuses on how the press and public perceived and judged her behavior.
Well-known awkward interviews given by the couple to major broadcasters sit alongside rough footage of bored paparazzi with long lenses crouching in bushes, complaining among themselves about Diana's wariness.
Diana's death is seen via home-video footage of a group of friends watching live TV news reports, whose initial excitement and light-heartedness turns to horror as the seriousness of the Paris car crash becomes clear.
Acknowledging that countless documentaries have been made about Diana, Perkins said he hoped the film could "add something new to the conversation" by creating something "more immersive and experiential."
The film "tried to live in the contemporaneous archive from the time, and allow it to unfold in a 'present-tense' unfolding."
It comes as the monarchy has been rocked by the departure of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, who accused the family of racism and fought legal battles with the British press over privacy.
"Part of the intention of this film -- or the reason why it felt like the timing was right to make it -- was perhaps, among other things, because of their story," said producer Simon Chinn.
"Our instinct was... to go back in a sense of what we've always thought of as the 'origin story', and see what we could learn about what has happened subsequently through the story of Diana."
Earlier in the evening, festival director Tabitha Jackson told journalists it was likely the online component of Sundance would remain permanently, beyond the pandemic, as it helped to "diversify the audiences for this work."
"Once we discovered how to do that, and that we could do that, I personally don't want to go back on that," she said.
Opening the festival, co-founder Robert Redford described the virtual platform as "an exciting evolution of the Sundance vision."
His pre-recorded message, intended to play in a virtual reality "spaceship" theater before a screening, suffered from a technical glitch and was later posted to the festival's website.
Among other opening night film was "Fire of Love", another archive-based documentary about a doomed couple that follows the exploits of French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft.
The intrepid pair lost their lives during a 1991 explosion on Japan's Mount Unzen, and the movie unearths footage they made, combining spectacular volcanic eruptions with their unique relationship.
Jesse Eisenberg's directorial debut "When You Finish Saving The World", starring Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard, also premiered.
The film follows a dysfunctional Midwestern family and the clashes between a mother, who runs a women's shelter, and a teenage son more interested in chasing internet fame via his budding music career.
Sundance runs until January 30.
© 2022 AFP
GOP candidate reveals new details about 'extortion' scheme carried out by Michael Flynn allies to support Trump's election lies
A Republican candidate for U.S. Senate has told the House select committee and FBI about an alleged blackmail scheme carried out by Michael Flynn's allies to pressure GOP lawmakers into backing Donald Trump's election lies.
Everett Stern, a former bank whistleblower who's running a long-shot campaign for one of Pennsylvania's Senate seats, told The Guardian that he collected evidence about the scheme for months and shared his findings with House investigators and law enforcement.
Stern, who runs the intelligence firm Tactical Rabbit, said Flynn's Patriot Caucus associates approached him asking for help with the scheme to dig up dirt on Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in an effort to "move" them toward backing election audits that would lend credibility to Trump's fraud claims.
He identified the Flynn associates as Patriot Caucus member Velma Anne Ruth, Houston real estate mogul Al Hartman and former Army Green Beret Ivan Raiklin, and Stern played along with the scheme for several months to gather evidence, which he turned over to investigators and shared with The Guardian.
“[They] don’t understand that Biden is the president," Stern said. "They wanted to collect information through Tactical Rabbit and my campaign."
Stern said the Flynn associates asked him to dig up campaign finance information or potentially embarrassing information about GOP lawmakers who were unsupportive of the audits, which he saw as potentially “extortion."
He contacted the FBI in June and met with agents again in November, when he also spoke with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Stern’s allegations suggest serious crimes,” said ex-prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig who worked on Ken Starr’s team during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. “If his allegations were corroborated by extrinsic evidence they clearly would warrant investigation.”
Amazon's online commerce empire is taking another step into the real world with plans announced Thursday to open a shop in Los Angeles that would be its first bricks-and-mortar clothing store.
An Amazon Style store to launch later this year is to let customers use the retailer's app to scan QR codes of garments, chose from sizes and colors, then have items sent to fitting rooms to try on, according to a blog post.
The move to expand its retail presence with a physical clothing store comes as authorities and competitors raise warnings over the Seattle-based firm accumulating too much control over the market.
This move would come on the heels of Amazon's 2017 acquisition of the Whole Foods Market grocery chain for $13.7 billion, which significantly expanded the e-commerce giant's presence in physical retail.
Fitting rooms in the Style shop are designed to be a "personalized space" where shoppers will find items they requested through the app along with options added based on their choices, according to Amazon.
"Our machine learning algorithms produce tailored, real-time recommendations for each customer as they shop," Amazon said.
Customers will be able to share style preferences in the app, if they want, to better customize recommendations. The app also lets people see reviews about items from other shoppers.
Touchscreens in fitting rooms will let people continue to shop, with items delivered "in just minutes" for them to try on, according to Amazon.
"This fast delivery is made possible by Amazon Style's on-site operations, with advanced technologies and processes used in Amazon fulfillment centers," the company said.