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The third most important story of the year

HYDERABAD, India, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- About 6,000 Muslim clerics from around India approved a fatwa against terrorism Saturday at a conference in Hyderabad.

The Muslim world has not been eager to hate America. For many Muslims, America with its religious freedom represented for decades a refuge against what all were pleased to call "godless Communism" and the USSR persecution of its Islamic republics. After the 9/11 attacks, there was a candlelight march in the streets of Tehran in mourning for the victims.

American flags were waved. No flags are waving now. I visited Tehran once, in 1972, for the film festival. My Iranian guide took me home for tea with her parents. There was a point that her family members wanted to make. "We are not Arabs," her mother said. "We are Persians. We speak a different language. We are Muslims, but we are modern Muslims. You do not see our women covered up in the streets or locked up in their houses. America is our ideal, where all are left to worship in peace." Then the Shah was overthrown, and the fundamentalists took over. Moderate candidates have been elected to national office in recent years, but the ayatollahs have veto power over moderation.

That was an Iran I hope still exists beneath the hostile stance they are taking against us. When we sent an army to Kuwait to throw back Saddam, Iran rejoiced, because Iraq was their ancient enemy. It was after we invaded Iraq after 9/11 that feelings began to sour. The sight of our occupation of a Muslim country disturbed the entire region. If we would invade its neighbor of our own volition, was Iran next? Until very recent months it seemed as if Iran was next. The White House reportedly ordered a military plan to be drawn up.

Festivals & Awards

Cannes #7: Odds and sods

CANNES, France -- In this festival of smooth, mannered style, what a jolt to encounter "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Here is a film as direct as a haymaker, a morality play where you don't need a dictionary.

Festivals & Awards

'Baby' stages late-round Oscar rally

HOLLYWOOD - "Million Dollar Baby" scored a late-round rally Sunday night at the 77th annual Academy Awards as Clint Eastwood's movie about a determined female boxer won for best picture and took Oscars for actress (Hilary Swank), supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) and director (Eastwood).

Movie Answer Man

'Closer' looks and 'Sideways' glances

Q. I saw both "Closer" and "Sideways" recently. I know that both of these films got rave reviews, but I left both feeling disappointed and wondering "what am I missing?" I didn't like any of the characters in "Closer" and just saw a narcissistic emptiness. I had no idea why they did what they did.

Festivals & Awards

A continent speaks for itself

TORONTO -- Anant Singh opened his first video store in Durban, South Africa, when it was still illegal for a nonwhite to own a store in a whites-only area. Mark Bamford and Suzanne Kay moved from Los Angeles to South Africa four years ago to make movies. For many years, their interracial marriage would have been against the law there. Darrell James Roodt started making anti-apartheid films in the early 1980s, when he had to work in secret. His producer was Anant Singh, who used profits from his video stores to back films he could not legally make. Leleti Khumalo, who is 33, spent the first 23 years of her life living under apartheid. Her father died when she was 3. Her mother worked as a domestic, raising her four children in a home with a bed as its single piece of furniture.

Festivals & Awards

Pages from a Cannes diary

CANNES, France Euzhan Palcy strikes me as proof that great directors can come from anywhere but they must know they are directors, and trust that they are great. As a 10-year-old schoolgirl on the Caribbean island of Martinique, she made her own movies at night in her room, casting shadow-plays on the wall. By the age of 17, she had produced short documentaries for the local TV station and recorded albums of songs and stories for children.

Festivals & Awards

Films show prevalence of English

CANNES, France -- The woman hopes to slip illegally into Afghanistan from Iran to save her sister's life. She is helped along the way by a sympathetic doctor. The film is by one of the great Iranian directors. You are already imagining the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, but no: The woman has been living in Canada, speaks English, and narrates the journey into a tape recorder. And the doctor is a black American; they speak English together.


Morgan Freeman: "Which me?"

Morgan Freeman was tired. He said he hadn't been able to sleep all night. It was the end of the afternoon, and he was relaxed and unwound and in a stream-of-consciousness mood. We set in a Chicago hotel room with a coffee pot. I had come to talk about his new thriller, "Along Came A Spider," but the conversation poked into this corner and that, and took us to places I might not have asked about. Listen to him as he speaks:

Movie Answer Man

Movie Answer Man (03/08/2001)

Q. Everyone is up in arms over "Hannibal" getting an R instead of an NC-17. What about the PG-rated "See Spot Run," the most disgusting excuse for a "family" movie I've ever seen? You've no idea the sensation I got when I took my four- and eight-year-old kids to a movie that tried to get laughs from a man's testicles getting bitten off by a dog, and David Arquette trying to make a Chaplin-type ballet out of falling into doggy-doo. Where are the censors when you really need them? (Steve Bailey, Jacksonville Beach, FL)

Festivals & Awards

Elizabeth Taylor helps host surreal AIDS benefit

CANNES, France -- I am a little dizzy. I have just returned from a $2,500-a-ticket dinner auction that followed a fashion show of Victoria's Secret swimwear and included Kenneth Branagh and James Caan stripping to the waist to be massaged by supermodel Heidi Klum on top of a piano later to be played by Elton John, while Harvey Weinstein auctioned off lunch with Nelson Mandela for $100,000.

Festivals & Awards

Offbeat films, personas hum

CANNES, France -- The Cannes Film Festival has its first unqualified hit in a ribald new comedy by Spain's Pedro Almodovar, and an oddball conversation piece in "The Limey," by the American Steven Soderbergh. As Hugh Hefner's Playmates slug it out with the Hawaiian Tropics girls for the photo op prize, the 52nd annual event is in full swing. Even Chicago's world-famous gate-crasher is in attendance.