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Shadowy forces are fighting for control of your local movie theater

Posted by Larry Gleeson

By Ana Swanson

On a sweltering day this summer, a handful of protesters gathered outside an AMC movie theater in Times Square, holding red signs proclaiming “AMC = American Movie Communists.”


They were opposing the giant movie theater company AMC’s $1.2 billion purchase of a rival cinema chain, Carmike, that has theaters in 41 states. The deal, which is still subject to government approval, would make AMC the largest theater chain in the U.S. The protesters targeted AMC’s Chinese owners — the sprawling Chinese real estate and entertainment company called Dalian Wanda that acquired the American movie chain in 2002, creating the world’s largest theater empire.

The protest suggested the Carmike acquisition would further extend Beijing’s hidden control over American mass media. But the protesters had not gathered on their own volition. They were being paid to be there by a Washington lobbying firm, Berman and Company, waging a war against Chinese acquisitions of American movie theaters.

It was one of the many unexpected ways a quiet battle is underway to halt a trend of Chinese businesses gobbling up American companies. The battle’s reach now goes beyond traditional areas with obvious national security implications — such as President Obama’s decision late Friday to block the acquisition of a semiconductor company with sensitive technology — into more surprising areas like movie theaters, where concerns about financial ownership collide with issues of cultural openness.

Berman and Company, which uses a network of organizations to carry out campaigns onscreen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-00-25-pm behalf of anonymous clients, is led by Rick Berman, a veteran lobbyist whom “60 Minutes” once called “Dr. Evil” for his defense of issues like secondhand smoke, trans fats, tanning beds and payday loans. For decades, his firm has launched ad campaigns to attack targets like the Humane Society, labor unions and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The new campaign, called “China Owns Us,” is nominally run by the Center for American Security, a registered trade name for a 501(c)4 nonprofit called the Enterprise Action Committee, according to D.C. corporate records. A small group of people employed by Berman’s K Street lobbying office run these and dozens of other similarly structured organizations, Berman said in an interview.

To drum up opposition to Chinese acquisitions in Hollywood, Berman’s operatives purchased two billboards this summer calling AMC “China’s Red Puppet” — one on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, another outside AMC’s Kansas headquarters. Berman and his groups wrote opinion pieces, produced YouTube videos, appealed to think tanks and hired a lobbyist to reach out to Congress, Berman said, to warn people of China’s insidious influence. Berman says he fears that Dalian Wanda could use its theater screens to subtly influence people’s views about the U.S. and China. He compares political messages in movies to a can of Coca-Cola sitting on the table in a film, or James Bond driving an Aston Martin.

“What I’m trying to do is stop somebody else from managing the culture here,” Berman says.

AMC’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said those concerns were unwarranted. “AMC is completely run by its American management in Leawood, Kansas, as American as an American place in the heartland you can find,” he said. “We’re in the business of selling movie tickets and popcorn, and we don’t involve ourselves in what goes on in China.”

Berman says he has helped foster concern on Capitol Hill about the issue. In September, 16 congressmen sent a letter asking the government to reexamine the role of a federal committee known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, in determining whether deals like Wanda’s takeover of AMC and Carmike undermine national security. Another congressman sent a letter urging the Justice Department to reconsider whether Chinese media influence should be regulated under the same rules as foreign lobbying. On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) sent a letter to the treasury secretary and the U.S. trade representative urging the U.S. government to more closely examine Chinese acquisitions in the U.S., including by Dalian Wanda.

“I am concerned that these acquisitions reflect the strategic goals of China’s government and may not be receiving sufficient review,” Schumer wrote.

Officials on Capitol Hill acknowledge meeting with Berman or his associates, but say they have been motivated by preexisting concerns about Chinese national security threats.

“It would be incomprehensible to me to turn a blind eye and think all is well with China,” said Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), the lead signature on the CFIUS letter.

It is unclear who is funding Berman’s campaign. Berman says he launched it himself out of personal interest, and only later received a “modest contribution” from two donors, whose names he won’t reveal but whom he describes as wealthy people who “care about national security issues.”

“What matters is whether or not what I’m saying is right. And if it’s right, it’s doesn’t matter that somebody gave me the money to go out and say it,” he said.

But several industry experts point to Berman’s past ties with Philip Anschutz, a conservative billionaire who has a controlling stake in Regal Entertainment Group, which owns America’s largest cinema chain — at least until the AMC-Carmike deal goes through.

“The odds are that it’s the film-making community. They certainly have a dog in this fight,” John Carroll, a communications professor at Boston University who has blogged about Berman’s advertising tactics, says of Anschutz and Regal Entertainment. “But Berman resolutely refuses to reveal his donors.”

Tax records indicate that the Anschutz Foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Berman’s nonprofits. Anschutz also owns the Weekly Standard and the Washington Examiner, where Berman has advertised and written about his China campaign.

“The relationship I have had with Phil has generally been over employment/union issues. It does not extend into this area,” Berman said in an emailed response.

The Anschutz Foundation and Regal Entertainment did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Shareholders have already approved the AMC-Carmike deal, and it is expected to close in late 2016 or early 2017 unless U.S. regulators intervene. In addition to an anti-trust review by the Department of Justice, CFIUS could rule that the deal threatens U.S. national security. Chinese investment in the U.S. entertainment industry skyrocketed to $3.7 billion in the first three quarters of 2016, up from $1.1 billion in 2015 and $2.7 billion in 2014, which was largely due to Wanda’s purchase of AMC, according to research and advisory firm Rhodium Group.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-05-37-pmDalian Wanda is the most prominent among the Chinese companies that have been on a buying spree in Hollywood in the past few years. Wanda purchased Legendary Entertainment, one of Hollywood’s biggest movie production companies, for $3.5 billion in early 2016. The company has a pending deal to buy Dick Clark Productions, the TV producer for the Miss America pageant and the Golden Globe Awards. AMC inked a deal in July to acquire the Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group, the largest cinema chain in Europe. Executives at AMC and Dalian Wanda say Chinese political interests do not influence what’s shown in American movie theaters.

“There is no political point of view,” Wang Jianlin, the head of Dalian Wanda who is also China’s richest man, told a crowd in Los Angeles in October. “I am a businessman.”

Others in the film industry, like Hollywood producer Janet Yang, attribute the backlash to Chinese media control to xenophobia and discomfort with China’s rising global power.

“If you grew up on John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or superhero movies, or these very powerful iconic pieces of content, that does affect what you think the world order looks like,” she said. “That’s a paradigm shift, some people can’t handle it.”

But some film industry executives and academics say the acquisitions warrant more scrutiny, partly due to Wang’s extensive ties with China’s military and top leaders. China tightly controls its own domestic media to ensure that the press, film and other media portray the Communist Party in a positive light, and it allows only 34 foreign films to show in its cinemas each year. Domestic and Hollywood films that are critical of Beijing or highlight sensitive topics like Tibet or Taiwan, for instance, have little chance of reaching China’s lucrative cinema market, which by some estimates overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest this year.

Aynne Kokas, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and the author of “Hollywood Made in China,” says Americans should consider the possibility that Wanda could one day use its massive distribution network to suppress a film that was critical of China.

“Would that happen? We can’t be certain. But the fact is that the possibility is significant, and given the nature of film distribution in China, it’s not actually that far off,” she said.

Some say China’s influence has already reshaped production in Hollywood. To cater to China’s lucrative audiences, some Hollywood filmmakers have added Chinese stars to the cast, as in “Iron Man 3,” or relocated scenes to China, as in “Looper.” Concerns about Chinese censors led filmmakers to remove China as the origin of a zombie virus in “World War Z,” and swap North Korea for China as the main antagonist in “Red Dawn.” It even led to the removal of a scene in “Skyfall” in which James Bond kills a Chinese security guard, a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission says.

Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China at the Wilson Center, says there is no evidence as yet that Wanda is changing what Americans see. The push in Congress to regulate media investments is “a very dangerous notion,” he said. “It would be a gross infringement on our cultural freedom if we couldn’t see good Chinese films, because Congress had determined that a Chinese film threatened our cultural security.”

On the other hand, Daly says, the U.S. has never confronted a potential security threat quite like this before. “With China, you’ve got authoritarianism and purchasing power in one nation.”

(Source: www.washingtonpost.com)


Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens to Be Honored With the Hollywood Documentary Award

James Corden Will Host Special Anniversary Ceremony on Sunday, November 6, 2016 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel

HOLLYWOOD, CA–(Marketwired – November 02, 2016) – dick clark productions announced today that Academy Award-winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens will be honored with the “Hollywood Documentary Award” for National Geographic’s “Before the Flood” at the 20th Annual “Hollywood Film Awards® Presented by Virginia Black.” In the film, director and producer Stevens follows DiCaprio, who also executive produces, as he travels to five continents and the Arctic to gain a deeper understanding of the dramatic changes now occurring around the world due to climate change.

The awards ceremony, celebrating its 20th anniversary as the official launch of the awards season®, will be hosted by actor and comedian James Corden, and will take place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, on November 6, 2016. The Hollywood Film Awards honors some of the most acclaimed films and actors, as well as previews highly anticipated films and talent for the upcoming year. Additional artists are also honored in the categories of Cinematography, Visual Effects, Film Composing, Costume Design, Editing, Production Design, Sound and Makeup & Hairstyling. Its honorees over the past 20 years have included the world’s biggest stars and more than 110 have gone on to garner Oscar nominations and/or wins.

Past honorees of the “Hollywood Documentary Award” include Asif Kapadia for “Amy” in 2015 and Mike Myers for “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” in 2014.

“Before The Flood” hit theatres October 21st (NY & LA) and aired globally (in 171 countries and 45 languages) on National Geographic on October 30th. From October 30 through November 6th “Before The Flood” will be available for free (commercial free) via a record number of digital and streaming platforms around the world. Visit www.beforetheflood.com/ for more information.

From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens and Academy Award-winning actor, environmental activist and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio, “Before the Flood” presents a riveting account of the dramatic changes now occurring around the world due to climate change, as well as the actions we as individuals and as a society can take to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet. The film follows DiCaprio as he travels to five continents and the Arctic speaking to scientists, world leaders, activists and local residents to gain a deeper understanding of this complex issue and investigate concrete solutions to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time. It premieres on National Geographic on October 30th.

LEONARD DiCAPRIO (Producer) is an Academy Award® award-winning actor (and five-time nominee), who has been recognized for his work as an actor, producer and activist. DiCaprio most recently starred in The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, for which he received the Academy Award® (2016) for Best Actor in a Leading Role, as well as the Golden Globe® for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama; Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role; and Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Actor.

Previously, he worked with Netflix to release Virunga, an Oscar-nominated documentary that examines gorilla preservation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. He produced and starred in The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese, for which he received the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, as well as Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Picture from his role as a producer. Prior to The Wolf of Wall Street, he starred in blockbuster hit The Great Gatsby as well as Django Unchained, and received a Golden Globe nomination for his work. As the title role in J. Edgar, under the direction of Clint Eastwood, he received Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominations for his work in the film. Additionally, he starred in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception, and the dramatic thriller Shutter Island, which marked his fourth collaboration with director Martin Scorsese.

Before earning two Academy Award nominations for The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio earned an Oscar nod in 2007 for his performance in Edward Zwick’s drama Blood Diamond. He also received Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominations for his work in the film. That same year, he garnered Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, Critics’ Choice Award and SAG Award nominations for his role in the Oscar-winning Best Picture The Departed, directed by Scorsese. He also shared in a SAG Award nomination for Outstanding Motion Picture Cast Performance as a member of the ensemble cast of The Departed.

He previously earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Scorsese’s acclaimed 2004 biopic The Aviator. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes in that film also brought him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama, as well as Critics’ Choice and BAFTA Award nominations. He was also honored with two SAG Award nominations, one for Best Actor and another for Outstanding Motion Picture Cast Performance as part of the Aviator cast. In addition to his acting work, DiCaprio launched his own production company, Appian Way. Under the Appian Way banner, he wrote, produced and narrated the acclaimed environmentally themed documentary The 11th Hour. Among Appian Way’s other productions are the aforementioned Shutter Island and The Aviator, as well as The Ides of March, Red Riding Hood, Orphan, Public Enemies, Out of the Furnace, starring Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson, and Runner, Runner, starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. Their upcoming production slates includes Otto Bathurst’s Robin Hood: Origins, a feature adaptation of the Japanese manga “Akira” and three projects written by Billy Ray: The Twilight Zone, an Untitled Richard Jewell. Dennis Lehane’s critically acclaimed novel Live By Night, written, directed by, and starring Ben Affleck will bow December 2016.

Born in Hollywood, California, DiCaprio started acting at the age of 14. His breakthrough feature film role came in Michael Caton-Jones’ 1993 screen adaptation of Tobias Wolff’s autobiographical drama This Boy’s Life. That same year, he co-starred in Lasse Hallström’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, earning his first Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for his performance as a mentally handicapped young man. In addition, he won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s New Generation Award for his work in the film.

In 1995 DiCaprio had starring roles in three very different films, beginning with Sam Raimi’s Western, The Quick and the Dead. He also garnered praise for his performance as drug addict Jim Carroll in the harrowing drama The Basketball Diaries, and for his portrayal of disturbed pansexual poet Arthur Rimbaud in Agnieszka Holland’s Total Eclipse. The following year, DiCaprio starred in Baz Luhrmann’s contemporary screen adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, for which he won the Best Actor Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. He also joined an all-star ensemble cast in Marvin’s Room, sharing in a SAG Award nomination for Outstanding Motion Picture Cast Performance.

In 1997 DiCaprio starred opposite Kate Winslet in the blockbuster Titanic, for which he earned a Golden Globe Award nomination. The film shattered every box-office record on its way to winning 11 Oscars, including Best Picture. His subsequent film work includes dual roles in The Man in the Iron Mask; The Beach; Woody Allen’s Celebrity; Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (receiving a Golden Globe nomination); Gangs of New York (his first film for director Martin

Scorsese); Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies; and Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, which reunited DiCaprio with Winslet and brought him his seventh Golden Globe nomination.

DiCaprio is well known for his dedication to the environment on a global scale, producing creative projects such as the documentary 11th Hour, spearheading numerous public awareness campaigns, and launching The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. He and Appian Way are currently in partnership with Netflix to produce two environmentally themed documentaries titled Catching the Sun and How to Change the World, both currently in post-production and slated for release in 2016. DiCaprio also serves on the boards of World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and International Fund for Animal Welfare.

In September 2014 DiCaprio was designated as a United Nations Messenger of Peace for his longstanding commitment to environmental activism. That same month, DiCaprio was honored with the Clinton Global Citizen Award, participated in history’s largest climate march in New York City and powerfully addressed the UN Summit. In January 2016 DiCaprio was awarded a Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum for his work to bring global attention to the urgent need to address climate change.

Fisher Stevens has worked in the entertainment industry for over 30 years. His versatility is evidenced by his credits, which range from acting to producing to directing and from film to television to theater, as well as working with the United Nations. Most recently he had recurring arcs on the HBO productions “The Night Of,” the acclaimed miniseries starring John Turturro, and “Vice Principals,” a comedy series with Danny McBride and Walton Goggins. His newest project, Before the Flood, is his third environmental film, following the Academy Award-winning The Cove and Racing Extinction. The documentary follows Academy Award-winning actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio as he travels to five continents to gain a deeper understanding of climate change and its impact on the world. Additionally, he directed the upcoming HBO documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, about the Hollywood family and produced the upcoming Netflix documentary Sky Ladder, about celebrated Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

Previously announced honorees for this year’s show include: “Hollywood Career Achievement Award,” Eddie Murphy; “Hollywood Actor Award,” Tom Hanks; “Hollywood Supporting Actor Award,” Hugh Grant; “Hollywood Actress Award,” Natalie Portman; “Hollywood Supporting Actress Award,” Nicole Kidman; “Hollywood Comedy Awards,” Robert De Niro; “Hollywood Breakout Actress Award,” Naomie Harris; “New Hollywood Award,” Lily Collins; “Spotlight Award,” Janelle Monáe; “Hollywood Ensemble Award,” “Gold;” “Hollywood Song Award,” Justin Timberlake; “Hollywood Blockbuster Award,” “The Jungle Book”; “Hollywood Animation Award,” “Zootopia”; “Hollywood Director Award,” Mel Gibson; “Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award,” Tom Ford; “Hollywood Producer Award,” Marc Platt; “Hollywood Screenwriter Award,” Kenneth Lonergan; “Hollywood Cinematography Award,” Linus Sandgren; “Hollywood Film Composer Award,” Mychael Danna; “Hollywood Editor Award,” John Gilbert; “Hollywood Visual Effects Award,” Stephane Ceretti and Richard Bluff; “Hollywood Sound Award,” Christopher Boyes and Frank Eulner; “Hollywood Costume Design Award,” Albert Wolsky; “Hollywood Make Up & Hair Styling Award,” Shane Thomas, Angela Conte, Bec Taylor and Noriko Waztanabe; and “Hollywood Production Design Award,” Wynn Thomas.

The 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards are presented by Virginia Black. Virginia Black. Rich. Decadent. Smooth. Whiskey redefined.

CHEAT TWEET: .@LeoDiCaprio and Fisher Stevens will be honored with the Hollywood Documentary Award at the @HollywoodAwards: hfas.news/holly9927 #HFAs

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About dick clark productions
dick clark productions (dcp) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming, with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Country Countdown Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” “Hollywood Film Awards” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance,” from 19 Entertainment, a division of CORE Media Group and dcp. dcp also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries, with more than 55 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.

The Hollywood Film Awards®, founded in 1997, were created to celebrate Hollywood and launch the awards season. The recipients of the awards are selected by an Advisory Team for their body of work and/or a film(s) that is to be released during the calendar year. For additional information, visit www.hollywoodawards.com.

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