- - Sunday, October 16, 2011

Belefonte documentary set to air on HBO

At 84, Harry Belafonte doesn’t sing publicly anymore, but his music is no less rich or compelling. Even delivered in the form of the spoken words, he voices lyrically and from his heart.

“What a blessing, what a blessing,” he marveled in his distinctive sandy whisper, summing up his life in a recent interview.

Of course, Mr. Belafonte has not been the only beneficiary of that busy, blessed life. He has brought pleasure to millions with his singing. He earned the first-ever gold record for an album for 1956’s “Calypso,” which produced the inescapable smash single “Banana Boat (Day-O)” and gained international stardom in concert, on TV and in film in such movies as “Carmen Jones” (1954), “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” and “Buck and the Preacher.” He won a Tony Award in 1954 for his featured role in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”

Mr. Belafonte blended his artistry with activism by playing a key role in the civil rights movement alongside such leaders as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, whom he pushed for more aggressive protection of blacks, and President Kennedy, whom Mr. Belafonte schooled as a presidential candidate on the importance of King’s mission, while simultaneously advising King on how to work with the Kennedys.

The child of a Jamaican-born domestic worker in Harlem, Mr. Belafonte understood and condemned social injustices from a young age and resolved to help correct them.

“I wasn’t an artist who turned activist, I was an activist who turned artist,” he said.

Belafonte’s journey forms a connect-the-dots map of six decades of popular culture and social crusades. It also drives “Sing Your Song,” a beautifully conceived documentary about Mr. Belafonte’s life and the era the rest of us have shared with him. The film premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on HBO.

At first, he felt narcissistic and superfluous doing a documentary, Mr. Belafonte said, hosting a reporter at his awards- and mementos-filled office in the Manhattan neighborhood once known as Hell’s Kitchen.

“What have I got to say that people want to hear, if they’re not hearing it during the time I lived doing it?” he said.

But then he learned a lesson from Marlon Brando, an old friend with whom he took acting classes in the early 1950s and subsequently became allied in the civil rights movement.

When Brando died in 2004, “I felt not only that America had lost a great artist, but a great social force,” Mr. Belafonte said. “But people knew little about his social activism, and he passed away without leaving any record of it.

“So I started going around, identifying all of the people who were my peers who had done incredible things but never talked about it. What began as a simple exercise in providing for the archives wound up taking four years of nothing but filming all over the world.”

Britain considers ban on Iran’s Press TV

British officials are preparing to ban Iran’s English-language Press TV, the broadcaster said Friday. Regulator Ofcom confirmed that it is considering punitive action, but said no decision has been made.

According to the Associated Press, the threat of sanctions has been hanging over Press TV since May, when Ofcom ruled that the station broke broadcasting rules by airing a 2009 interview with detained Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari.

Mr. Bahari was jailed as a suspected spy after Iran’s disputed presidential election and said his televised interview had been scripted by his captors, who threatened to execute him unless he cooperated. Ofcom ruled that Press TV never made clear in its segment that Mr. Bahari was under duress and unfairly suggested that he was biased. Mr. Bahari since has been released.

Ofcom spokesman Rhys Hurd denied that a decision had been made but agreed that Press TV could be stripped of its U.K. broadcasting license.

“All options are being considered,” he said.

Press TV is an arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which says it is pressing Tehran’s case against the “domineering empire of Western media.”

Press TV suggested that it had nettled British officials with its critical coverage of the tuition protests in London and the rioting that broke out across England in August. It also noted that a 2010 U.S. State Department cable published by WikiLeaks cited a senior British diplomat as saying that the U.K. was “exploring ways to limit the operations of the IRIB’s Press TV service.”

But the cable went on to note that “U.K. law sets a very high standard for denying licenses to broadcasters” and suggested that any such action was unlikely in the short term.

Russian president’s son starred in television show

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s teenage son, who is now shielded from the public and never photographed, starred four years ago in a children’s television show before his father became Kremlin chief, the program’s makers said.

According to Agence France-Presse, Ilya Medvedev, now thought to be 16, starred in two sketches in the long-running national television children’s series “Yeralash,” or “Jumble,” the Echo of Moscow radio station reported.

“He went through normal casting. It was later that we found out who he was. He was a great boy; we liked him,” the show’s artistic director, Boris Grachevsky, told Echo of Moscow on Thursday.

The director of one of the sketches, Alexei Shcheglov, told Komsomolskaya Pravda daily: “Yes, I knew whose son Ilya was, but the filming was no different from usual.”

The name Ilya Medvedev - a common one - appears in the credits of the sketches.

Several photographs allegedly showing Ilya Medvedev have been leaked on the Internet, and the actor bears a clear resemblance to his father.

The sketches were shot in 2007 and 2008 when Mr. Medvedev was first deputy prime minister, pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. He was elected president in March 2008.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, which gave the article full prominence in its print edition, later removed the story from its website. Contacted by Agence France-Presse, the Kremlin declined to comment.

The offspring of Russia’s rulers are elaborately protected. Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters are never officially photographed and are thought to be living incognito.

Mr. Putin said in an interview last year that he saw no need for his daughters, then university students, to become publicly known and they did not want to be.

His press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told Dozhd Internet television this month that Mr. Putin wanted a “simple human life” for his daughters.

Mr. Medvedev’s son, born in 1995, has been slightly less hidden from view. He reportedly played guitar with members of Deep Purple in March, and Mr. Medvedev has talked of his son’s love for rock band Linkin Park.

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