Arts & Entertainment

It’s Super Bowl and Party Time in Houston Texas

It’s party time in Houston, Texas.

The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons take the field here Sunday for Super Bowl LI (51) — the championship game of the National Football League.

But Saturday, out here on Discovery Green, it’s a family-friendly festival as far as the eye can see.

It’s hard to imagine that this place used to be just a couple of parking lots.

At the heart of the fun is the Animal Planet-sponsored Puppy Bowl. It’s both as cute and as ridiculous as it sounds.

Nathaniel, a boy his dad holds in his arms, explains it best. “The Puppy Bowl is a Super Bowl for puppies.”

Those same puppies gently bite the hand of any camera-wielding journalist who steps on their turf. Trust me.

Marcus from Houston, with his son on his shoulders, is just thankful for family fun day.

“It’s pretty nice, you know,” he said. “It’s something different. It’s something to do; something to get us out of the house, you know? It’s pretty awesome.”

Patrick, wearing sunglasses and a backwards baseball hat, holds his daughter and says, “It’s great. It’s another thing to do on Saturday. You kind of get out and see something new.”

He tilts his head toward his daughter.

“I definitely love to bring her out and experience everything. This is something that we don’t get to do too often.”

A band tunes up for an evening performance. Journalists, we learn the hard way, are not allowed on stage during the sound check as security kindly escorts us to the grass.

So we wander to the rows of food trucks and drink tents.

It’s here that we meet Chris. He’s got a beard, a Patriots’ baseball cap, and a beer sitting on the table in front of him. He also spent $9,200 for his and his wife’s tickets to the big game.

“We’re on the Patriots’ sideline. We’re about 10 rows up, so it’s not bad. We got some pretty good seats,” he said.

Most people can’t shell out that kind of money for a game, but that’s what drives the cost of a 30-second TV ad in the 2017 Super Bowl to $5 million and up.

But, hey, with nearly 1-in-5 Americans saying ads are the best part of the game, it may not be a bad idea to avoid the crowds and save a few thousand bucks by just catching the game at home with your own puppies.

Arts & Entertainment

‘La La Land’ Wins at Directors Guild; Next Stop Oscars

La La Land director Damien Chazelle waltzed off with the top honor at the Directors Guild of America Awards, Saturday.

It’s the latest stop on the ebullient musical’s journey to the Oscars, but it wasn’t all song and dance at the annual awards ceremony in Beverly Hills. The evening also took on a more somber, urgent note as many directors and presenters also grappled with President Donald Trump’s refugee and immigration ban. 


“I wanted to celebrate the act of dreaming and what art means. Art does connect people and transcend borders,” Chazelle said. “I want to be part of that transnational dialogue of movies.” 


At 32-years-old, Chazelle, a first-time nominee, is the youngest ever recipient of the DGA feature film award, which all but guarantees an eventual Oscar win February 26.


Rarely has the DGA winner not gone on to win the directing prize at the Academy Awards. La La Land recently won the top honor at the Producers Guild Awards and is nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars. 


Earlier in the evening La La Land stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling presented Chazelle with the directing medallion. While singing his accolades, like the fact that he shot the musical in 40 days using 35mm film, 93 locations and 1,600 extras, Gosling also joked that Chazelle “directed his own birth in a single take.” 


Chazelle was up against Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, Garth Davis for Lion, and Denis Villeneuve for Arrival. All but Davis are also nominated for the Oscar.


Davis did win the first time director award for Lion, however. Starring Dev Patel and newcomer Sunny Pawar, Lion tells the true story of an Indian man who was lost as a 5-year-old and 25 years later used Google Earth to retrace his steps to his hometown and his birthmother, not knowing the name of either.


“I had the first half of the film relying on a 5-year-old child who did not speak English,” Davis said. “This movie demanded that the whole cast and crew make this film from their hearts.”


Nate Parker was also nominated for the first time feature award for The Birth of a Nation — the only major awards recognition for his film.

Documentaries win 

The Directors Guild also recognizes excellence in directing in documentaries, live, scripted and reality television and commercials. Ezra Edelman won the documentary award for O.J.: Made in America, which he called a labor of labor’


Other winners included Steven Zaillian for The Night Of, Tina Mabry for An American Girl Story — Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, Miguel Sapochnik for Game of Thrones and Becky Martin for Veep. 


Lifetime award

Sir Ridley Scott was also given the 35th Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Christopher Nolan, Billy Crudup and Michael Fassbender. 


Fassbender described Scott as, “direct, generous, loyal, competitive … and a bit of a loner who prefers the company of dogs to most people.”


Beyond the self-congratulatory air typical of a Hollywood awards season event, many were compelled to address the refugee and immigration ban as it relates to the entertainment industry and the art it creates. 


Davis said he’s spoken to “a lot of refugees who have said that this film has given them the courage to find their families.”


Chazelle praised Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, an Oscar-nominee for his film The Salesman who said he will not attend this year’s Academy Awards because of a travel ban imposed by Trump. 


Farhadi, Chazelle said, “comes from a country my government tells me I shouldn’t be in dialogue with.” 


Chazelle said that the business of excluding filmmakers or voices is “inherently anti-art.” 

Politics and no politics 

So prevalent were politics throughout the evening that even the absence of a political statement required acknowledgement. 


Ridley Scott said, “I’m not going to talk about politics because there have been a lot of references to politics tonight and I’m best off not talking about it.” 


But for the most part, directors were eager to condemn the ban. Falling in line with statements from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Writers Guild of America, DGA President Paris Barclay said “transcending borders is kind of what we live for.” The DGA, he noted, was founded by immigrants and said that even Billy Wilder was a refugee.


“The DGA will always be a home for all directors,” Barclay said. 

Silicon Valley & Technology

Women Thrive in Computer Science at California College

Women are underrepresented in high tech industries, and at American universities, they make up only 1 in 6 students of computer science. That’s changing on some campuses, as Mike O’Sullivan reports from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, near Los Angeles, where more than half of last year’s graduates in computer science were women.

Silicon Valley & Technology

A Step Toward a Large-scale Quantum Computer

Quantum computers, once they become available, are likely to help us solve problems too complex for the fastest computers today. So far, several laboratories around the world say they have created small quantum chips as the proof of concept. Scientists in Britain now say they have created the first blueprint for a large-scale quantum computer. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Economy & business

Super Bowl Party Kicks Off in Houston, Texas

This year’s Super Bowl, the National Football League championship game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, is Feb. 5 in Houston, Texas. For fans, the price for the cheapest tickets is expected to be about $2,000. But, luckily, there is a more affordable way to get in on some of the excitement of the Super Bowl party. VOA’s Brian Allen has more.

Economy & business

Workers Must Train for Jobs Computers and Robots Can’t Do

Stock prices have hit new highs. Consumer confidence has been rising. And job creation has increased for 76 consecutive months.That’s a snapshot of the U.S. economy that President Donald Trump inherits. But as Mil Arcega reports, the new president will face serious challenges as he takes responsibility for the economy of the future.

Science & Health

Genetic Research Shows Promise as Cancer Treatment

World Cancer Day is Feb. 4, and hundreds of activities are planned around the world. According to the World Health Organization, about 14 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and more than 8 million people die. But researchers in Maine are looking at a new way to fight the disease that doesn’t have the side effects of chemotherapy. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Economy & business

43 Million Americans Live in Poverty, Worry About Future

Many Americans voted for Donald Trump because of concerns over the economy. But with Republican lawmakers proposing repealing the Affordable Care Act, privatizing Medicare, and cutting funding for food assistance, some of the 43 million people who live below the poverty line are anxious about what’s next, as VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.