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China's iQIYI and Sony to produce online series in Mandarin

A Chinese online video site announced Thursday it will be working with Sony Pictures Television to produce a Mandarin-language action thriller for online viewers.

Chinese and foreign producers have increasingly teamed up in recent years to make movies for distribution in both markets, but the deal between iQIYI and the division of Hollywood studio Sony Pictures is a rare example of collaboration between Chinese and Hollywood companies to produce programming for the Chinese audience.

Streaming sites in China showing Chinese and foreign films and TV shows as well as user generated content have become hugely popular in recent years. Companies like iQIYI, which is owned by Chinese search engine Baidu, have also developed their own shows.

iQIYI said at a news conference that the co-production will be a three-part adaptation of an American drama called "Chosen," which aired in the U.S. on an online streaming video service owned by Sony called Crackle.

iQIYI said it was expected to feature top Chinese stars while also using international actors and production professionals. Production is expected to begin in spring 2017 with an anticipated launch in the fall. It will be produced by Sony's Playmaker Media with support from Australian regional fund Screen NSW.

Chinese and Hollywood companies are increasingly working together to produce content and market Hollywood movies. Sony said in September that it had teamed up with China's Wanda Group, which owns theater chains around the world, to cooperate on big-budget movies.

iQIYI earlier this week announced it had signed a licensing agreement with Hollywood studio Lionsgate to give it exclusive streaming rights in China to upcoming Lionsgate movies and some library titles.

Hollywood is keen to extend its reach to China to make more bucks from the world's second biggest movie-going market, while Chinese producers want to learn technological know-how and storytelling techniques from abroad.

That is why iQiyi also announced on Thursday a mentoring program that aims to enlist world-class directors to act as mentors to Chinese filmmakers as they attempt to appeal to China's increasing numbers of online viewers.

Its first sign-up is low-budget horror film producer Roger Corman, who attended Thursday's news conference. The 90-year-old American producer of films including "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" and "Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader" will lead a team of young Chinese filmmakers and act as producer on a sci-fi film made for viewing on the internet or mobile phone called "Invasion."

Sundance unveils diverse slate of competition films

Jenny Slate reunites with her "Obvious Child" director in the '90s-set "Landline," Sam Elliott plays a stoner Western film icon in "The Hero," Aubrey Plaza gets serious in "Ingrid Goes West," and Jennifer Aniston teams up with the future Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich, in the Gulf War drama "The Yellow Birds" in some of the films in competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

The Sundance Institute on Wednesday unveiled its first batch of films set to premiere at the annual Park City-based Festival founded by Robert Redford, including a new thematic thread of environmentally focused programming.

There were 66 narrative and documentary films selected for the U.S. Competition, the World Competition and the NEXT section, which highlights works from new directors. Breakout hits like "Whiplash," ''Fruitvale Station," ''Beasts of the Southern Wild," and "Weiner" all premiered in that section in recent years.

At the 2017 Festival, Lily Collins stars in the anorexia drama "To the Bone" from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" writer Marti Noxon; Jason Schwartzman reteams with his "Listen Up Philip" director Alex Ross Perry in "Golden Exits"; and "Moonlight" breakout Trevante Rhodes stars alongside Alfre Woodward in "Burning Sands," about violent fraternity hazing. There's also a new film from "Pete's Dragon" director David Lowery, "A Ghost Story," which brings him back together with his "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

"Eclectic" is the only word to describe the batch for Festival Director John Cooper, who with his team selects films for their originality and who the stories are about.

"What we saw in contrast to the polarizing state we're in in our country is the human side, the whole story of who we are coming through in many, many stories that will be playing at Sundance this year," Cooper said. "We see a lot of inclusion, we see a lot of boldness, we see a lot of places and people in front of the camera and behind the camera."

As with many years, the documentary competitions are stacked with timely explorations of hot-button issues, like policing looked at through the case study of the Oakland Police Department following Ferguson in "The Force," and an account of the Ferguson uprising told by the people who were there in "Whose Streets." There will also be documentaries about the Hulk Hogan/Gawker trial and the JonBenet Ramsey case.

"From the passion and chaos of creativity, independent filmmakers make decisions to harness that energy, break new ground and tell their stories," Redford said in a statement. "This year's Festival reflects every step of that journey, and shows how art can engage, provoke and connect people all over the world."

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 19 through Jan. 29. More films will be announced in coming days.

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Online: www.sundance.org/festival

Natalie Portman explores the mysteries of Jackie Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy did not have a conventional speaking voice. It's part New York, part prep school Mid-Atlantic, and it's jarring to most modern ears. Natalie Portman remembers her first few days on the set of "Jackie," going all in on that very specific accent and looking up to see her director Pablo Larrain's wide-eyed bafflement.

"Pablo's face was like 'uhhhhh...'," Portman said laughing.

They were filming a recreation of the television special "A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy," where CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood followed the first lady around with cameras as they spoke about each room and her pricey restoration. Larraín stopped during one take and played footage of the actual tour just to check. He was amazed at how spot-on Portman's interpretation actually was.

Still, "at the beginning it was shocking," Larrain said.

It was also, he notes, different from how Jackie Kennedy sounded in other circumstances. She had a public voice and a private voice, which Portman was able to study through Kennedy's recorded interviews with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

The film "Jackie," out in limited release Friday, explores the nuances of these public and private sides of the enigmatic figure in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband in 1963 as she plans the funeral, exits her home, comforts her children and tends to her husband's legacy.

It's what compelled screenwriter Noah Oppenheim to make her the subject of his first script.

"Most often she is perceived through the lens of being this style icon, this beautiful woman at her husband's side. People are fascinated by their marriage and his infidelities. But I didn't feel like she had ever gotten enough credit for understanding intuitively the power of television, the power of imagery and iconography and her role in defining how we remember her husband's presidency," Oppenheim said.

It was she, a week after the assassination, in an interview with Theodore H. White for LIFE magazine, who first uttered the word Camelot in reference to their time in power.

"I always assumed that the Kennedy administration had been referred to as Camelot from the beginning, that they were this young, handsome couple and American royalty," Oppenheim said. "The fact that she came up with Camelot is incredible. That one reference accomplishes more than any list of policy accomplishments ever could have in terms of cementing in people's minds who Jack Kennedy was."

The film, however, isn't out to provide answers. It relishes in Jackie being this inscrutable figure, showing the subtle differences in her interactions with the people around her, including a priest (John Hurt), the journalist (Billy Crudup), her longtime friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard).

"(Oppenheim) told her story through these different relationships and the different roles she played around the people in her life at different times. I think that's really powerful ... Consistency or arc is really a narrative fiction. Human beings are not like that," said Portman, who is earning some of the best reviews of her career for her performance.

Larrain wouldn't do the film without Portman. The script had been around since 2010 before getting the attention of Darren Aronofsky, who was set to direct his then-fiancé Rachel Weisz in the role. After exiting, Aronofsky stayed on to produce and was the one who made the somewhat unconventional ask of Larrain, a Chilean filmmaker, to consider it.

When Portman met with Larrain, she said it was akin to "being dared" to do the film.

"He was like, 'we're going to do this together or we'll both walk away,'" she said. "I was like 'all right, this is good. Let's take each other's hands and jump.'"

The tone, thanks to studied editing of Sebastian Sepulveda and a striking score by Mica Levi, can sometimes seem more like a psychological thriller than a conventional character study. Larrain delights in the beauty of bringing an audience to "that indeterminate place."

Portman, on the other hand, knows she's at the disposal of her directors and often isn't aware of the exact tone until she sees the finished product.

"When we were making 'Black Swan,' I thought I was making a completely different movie from the one I saw. I thought we were making something almost like a documentary and then I saw it and I was like 'What? What is this!?' I literally had no idea," she said. "I thought it was like a realistic portrait of a psychological breakdown of a person and it was not at all. You can totally misunderstand tone, but still it can work."

The film, heavy with historical and emotional significance, did allow for some levity, though, compliments of that White House Tour.

"We enjoyed that so much," Larrain said. "It was just talking about furniture and chairs. And she would even make the same mistakes Jackie did."

Portman: "We laughed a lot. Pablo kept being like 'be more excited about the chair!' She's REALLY excited about the chair."

Larrain: "But it was necessary because it shows a kind of splendor. I think when you are portraying such a tragic and critical moment, you need to have splendor to really understand that."

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Netflix enables offline access to content

What began as a mail-order rental outlet has gone almost entirely digital. Netflix has moved into making its own shows and feature films. And with growing mobile consumption, Netflix conquered the app world as well. 

>> Read more trending stories  

Though the streaming service has not previously let users download programs to watch offline, that's all about to change.

The California-based company announced in a news release Wednesday that it will begin allowing customers to download shows to watch on the go. 

Eddy Wu, Netflix's director of product innovation, wrote, "While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we've often heard they also want to continue their 'Stranger Things' binge while on airplanes and other places, where internet is expensive or limited."

Netflix will soon roll out a new version of the app with the download feature available, and several shows, including "Narcos," "Orange is the New Black" and "The Crown," are already available for download.

The new feature is included in all plans and available for phones and tablets on Android and iOS.

Read more at Netflix

'Moana' a Disney hit but portrayal irks some in the Pacific

Disney's animated movie "Moana" debuted to critical acclaim and box office success over the Thanksgiving weekend, but some people in the South Pacific dislike how it depicts their culture.

Of particular concern is the movie's portrayal of the demigod Maui, who is shown as enormous and egotistical, albeit with a good heart. That has been jarring for some in Polynesia, where obesity rates are among the highest in the world and where Maui is a revered hero in oral traditions.

Criticism from the Pacific has likely stung Disney, which went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the movie was culturally appropriate after being accused of racism in previous movies such as "Aladdin" (1992). For "Moana," the filmmakers traveled to the Pacific and met with anthropologists, historians, fisherman and linguists, part of what they came to call the Oceanic Story Trust.

The fictional movie takes place 3,000 years ago in the islands of Polynesia, an area that includes Hawaii, Tonga and Tahiti. The star is 16-year-old Moana, voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli'i Cravalho, who goes on an ocean voyage with Maui, voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The movie made $82 million over the five-day weekend, placing it behind only "Frozen" (2013) for a Thanksgiving debut.

Disney suffered an early embarrassment when it decided to sell costumes of Maui, which featured brown shirts and long pants with full-body tattoos. Disney put the costumes in stores in time for Halloween, but quickly pulled them after critics compared them to blackface.

Producer Osnat Shurer, speaking by phone from Berlin where she was promoting the movie, said the moviemakers spent five years working closely with people in the Pacific to create what they believe is a beautiful representation.

"The costume fell short of that," she said. "As different things grow around the movie, sometimes they don't hit the same mark."

Shurer said that when it came to figuring out the character of Maui, they found that different islands, villages, and even households, had different impressions of him.

"To some he's a Superman, to others he's a trickster," she said.

In all the stories, she said, Maui was clearly larger than life. At first, however, they envisioned him as a little smaller, and bald. But he just seemed to grow as the movie progressed. She said animators try to find the essence of a character and then exaggerate those features.

"We knew we wanted him to be big and wanted him to be strong," she said. "But he also moves with an incredible lightness."

She said she hopes Pacific Islanders see the movie with an open mind.

"I feel good about the movie we've created and that it can withstand scrutiny," she said. "All I can say is we did it with love and respect."

In New Zealand, the movie does not debut until after Christmas. But Teresia Teaiwa, a senior lecturer in Pacific studies at Victoria University of Wellington, said she was concerned about the portrayal of Maui.

"Before Disney, I've seen a lot of other representations, and Maui is a hero," she said. "I think it's clear from the trailers I've seen that he's a buffoon in Disney. It's a dramatic shift. He was a trickster but not a buffoon."

Teaiwa said if Disney really wanted to be culturally correct they would have paired Maui with a female deity, as he is in most legends, and not with a teenager.

"They wanted to get it right commercially without getting it wrong culturally," Teaiwa said. "But there are some things that they clearly didn't mind getting wrong."

She said there seemed to be a U.S. stereotype of Pacific Island men as huge, perhaps because the main exposure to them seemed to be through activities like NFL football.

Teaiwa said she was appalled by the Maui costume, particularly because some ethnologists from early last century had managed to collect the preserved, tattooed skin of Pacific people who had died.

"I thought it was macabre. I thought it was really creepy," she said of the costume. "It gave me the shudders to see something like that produced so lightly and in such a trivial way."

New Zealand politician Marama Fox, the co-leader of the indigenous Maori Party, said most Disney heroes tended to look far more muscular than Maui.

"I still don't think that's an accurate depiction of what Maui would look like or should look like," she said. "And it's a little bit of cultural misappropriation."

But asked if she planned to see the movie, Fox, a mother of nine, said she had little choice.

"How am I going to keep my kids away from singing Maori people and Polynesians?" she said. "Of course they're going to want to go and see it."

Review: In 'Jackie,' a fractured Kennedy fable

Pablo Larrain's "Jackie," a work of probing intimacy and shattered stereotype, is an electrifyingly fractured portrait of the former First Lady. Gone is the image of the wan, serene Jackie. Here, instead, is a savvy public-relations operator, a steely widow in grief and a woman redefining herself amid tragedy. "I'm his wi--" she begins saying after Dallas. "Whatever I am now."

The more complicated view of the mysterious Kennedy is inspired partly by the revelatory private interviews conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and released in 2011. She was not purely her pillbox-wearing public image, not merely a totem of grace, the candid tapes revealed.

Throughout "Jackie," we feel her discomfort at playing a starring role in an American fairy tale turned nightmare. The disharmony, sounded by Mica Levi's knotted, gloomy score, is always there between persona and person. "We're the beautiful people, right?" she sarcastically quips. Exiting Air Force One, she deadpans to her husband (Caspar Phillipson), "I love crowds." In Larrain's hands, Kennedy's pained public performance is a kind of sacrifice. "Jackie" is at once a deconstruction of the Jackie Kennedy fable and a dramatization of its making.

Penned by Noah Oppenheim ("The Maze Runner"), "Jackie" evades the traditional biopic format like a disease. It's organized around the Hyannis Port interview with flashbacks to events large and small before the assassination, during it and after. Many of the scenes, quiet and empty, are shot less like flashbacks than like Kennedy's own splintered, haunted memories.

Some, like her televised White House tour (recreated with black-and-white precision), are familiar. Others are strikingly surreal. Kennedy silently marching through a vacant White House, her pink suit bloodied from the shooting, is an unshakable image that feels straight out of Kubrick.

And then there's Kennedy stomping through rainy Arlington, her heels digging into the wet ground. Seeking a spot for what will be the Eternal Flame, she is, through force of will, staking a plot in history for her husband. "Have you read what they've been writing?" she first greets the reporter. "It's no way to be remembered."

Portman's Kennedy is, from the start, probably thornier and more uneasy than the woman ever was. Portman and Larrain have sharpened her and superimposed her story on a rigorously crafted but resolutely cold surface. "Jackie," though endlessly fascinating, can feel like a character study conducted on a surgical table.

Larrain, the talented Chilean filmmaker of the Oscar-nominated "No" whose equally complex "Neruda" is also out soon, is interested in dissecting Kennedy but not solving her. "I'll settle for a story that's believable," says Crudup's reporter. The truth, Kennedy says, is out of reach.

What is within the grasp of "Jackie" — aside from a compelling, intricate performance from a fully committed Portman — is a sense of how difficult it may have been for Kennedy to make things look so easy. With preternatural poise, she served as a bulwark of decorum and order against the chaos of the times. It's chilling now to hear the advice of Kennedy family friend William Walton (the great Richard E. Grant) after Lee Harvey Oswald is gunned down. He tells Kennedy to take the kids to Boston and "build a fortress." ''The world's gone mad, Mrs. Kennedy."

"Jackie," a Fox Searchlight release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "brief strong violence and some language." Running time: 100 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

'Manchester by the Sea' tops National Board of Review awards

"Manchester by the Sea" was named best film by the National Board of Review, which lavished four awards on Kenneth Lonergan's New England portrait of grief.

In the awards announced Tuesday, "Manchester by the Sea" also took best actor for Casey Affleck's lead performance, best screenplay for Lonergan's script and best male breakthrough performance for Lucas Hedges.

"Moonlight," the coming-of-age drama that cleaned up at Monday's Gotham Independent Film Awards , was awarded best director for Barry Jenkins, and best supporting actress for Naomie Harris.

Amy Adams won best actress for her turn in the cerebral sci-fi thriller "Arrival." Best supporting actor went to Jeff Bridges for his retiring sheriff in "Hell or High Water."

The not-yet-released "Hidden Figures," about black mathematicians at NASA in the 1960s, was honored for its ensemble. It stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Spacey.

The National Board of Review, a collection of film enthusiasts and academics founded in 1909, is one of the country's oldest such groups. Without significant ties to the movie industry, their awards -- known for spreading around the love to attract a room-full of celebrities -- hold little influence on Hollywood's awards season. But they're a regular stop on the road to the Academy Awards. The NBR awards will be handed out in a Jan. 4 gala hosted by Willie Geist.

But the strong showing for "Manchester by the Sea" certainly doesn't hurt its awards chances. Affleck, who also won best actor at the Gothams, is looking like a particularly formidable Oscar contender.

"Manchester by the Sea" is seen as a favorite this year, in a field also crowded by "La La Land," ''Moonlight" and Denzel Washington's upcoming "Fences." Later this week, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association will ring in with their picks.

Recent NBR top winners have been somewhat eccentric. "Mad Max: Fury Road," ''A Most Violent Year" and "Her" were named best feature the last three years.

Other awards announced Tuesday included "O.J.: Made in America" for best documentary, Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman" for best foreign-language film and "Kubo and the Two Strings" for best animated film.

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Online: http://www.nationalboardofreview.org/2016/11/national-board-review-announces-2016-award-winners/

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

'Hamilton' creator to tackle 'The Kingkiller Chronicles'

Lionsgate has partnered best-selling author Pat Rothfuss with composer and writer Lin-Manuel Miranda for an ambitious TV and film adaptation of the fantasy trilogy "The Kingkiller Chronicles."

The film studio said Tuesday it will develop and produce the feature film franchise, as well as a TV drama series that expands on the world outside of Rothfuss' books. There also is an option for a stage adaptation.

Miranda, creator of the Broadway hit "Hamilton," will serve as producer of the franchise and will compose original music, as well as write the songs. Rothfuss will be executive producer for both film and television.

The first film will be written by Lindsey Beer, who penned "Transformers 5," and will be based on the first book in the trilogy, "The Name of the Wind."

The top 10 movies on the iTunes Store

iTunes Movies US Charts:

1. The Secret Life of Pets

2. War Dogs (2016)

3. Finding Dory

4. Hell or High Water

5. Star Trek Beyond

6. Bad Moms

7. Money Monster

8. Suicide Squad (2016)

9. Jason Bourne

10. Mechanic Resurrection

iTunes Movies US Charts - Independent:

1. The Take (2016)

2. The Infiltrator

3. Captain Fantastic

4. The Man Who Knew Infinity

5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

6. Eye In the Sky

7. Don't Think Twice

8. It Had to Be You

9. Blood Father

10. The Lobster

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(copyright) 2016 Apple Inc.

'Moonlight' shines brightest at Trump-focused Gotham Awards

At a Gotham Independent Film Awards overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump, Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age drama "Moonlight" shined brightest.

A celebrated film about a boy growing up gay, black and poor in Miami, "Moonlight," virtually swept the night, taking best feature, best screenplay, a special jury award for best ensemble and the audience award. The Gothams, which honor independent film, are essentially the kick-off to Hollywood's long awards season.

Monday night's ceremony, hosted in Manhattan by Keegan-Michael Key, also served as the first opportunity for the film industry — or at least a sizable chunk of its more East Coast, indie contingent — to formally gather since the election. It gave much of Hollywood (which overwhelmingly backed Hilary Clinton) a chance to commiserate over drinks, try out punchlines and make a rallying cry for art's political power.

Key, half of the former Comedy Central duo "Key and Peele," opened, with deadpan sarcasm, with what he said was a 4-week-old monologue.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are so grateful that we live in a country that celebrates diversity," said Key. Later, he gave up the guise and spoke earnestly. "Our voices need to be heard now," he said.

It was fitting then that "Moonlight" dominated the evening. The string of awards had the cast — which features newcomers Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex R. Hibbert playing the young protagonist in three chapters — frequently dancing arm-in-arm while the Gotham crowd stood to applaud.

Though "Moonlight," based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play, has some big-name backers (Brad Pitt's Plan B produced it), Jenkins played the role of the underdog.

"When I made this film, I thought five people would watch it," Jenkins said. In limited release, the low-budged "Moonlight" has already made $8.5 million, making it one of the year's biggest indie hits.

Other top awards went to Casey Affleck, who won best actor for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea," and Isabelle Huppert, whose turn in Paul Verhoeven's "Elle" took best actress over favorites such as Natalie Portman ("Jackie") and Annette Bening ("20th Century Women"). The French actress, visibly shocked, said she had been told the Gothams were very American in outlook, and so her chances were slim.

"I feel so American tonight," chuckled Huppert. "I feel good. I feel really good."

Others sounded less enthused about their country and the president-elect who resides about 70 blocks to the north of Monday's awards. Oliver Stone, one of the night's four tribute honorees (the others were Amy Adams, Ethan Hawke and producer Arnon Milchan), gave a relatively muted speech, but told filmmakers in attendance: "You can be critical of your government. We've forgotten that."

Damian Lewis, the British actor, presented the audience award with a tweak for the electoral college.

"The film that receives the most votes ... is the winner," said Lewis with arch emphasis. "It's a brilliant idea."

A number of expected Oscar contenders weren't nominated by the Gothams, which select their indie-centric nominees from small panels of industry figures and critics. Absent were late arriving studio releases like Denzel Washington's "Fences" and, most conspicuous of all, Damien Chazelle's Los Angeles musical "La La Land." That $30 million production (perhaps a bit too pricey for indie qualification), is seen by many as the best picture front-runner.

But Oscar season is just getting started. A string of critics groups will announce their picks this week. And the biggest jolt to the race may have already come via the election. How Trump's victory will affect the mood of Hollywood — will academy members lean toward sunny escapism or more timely social dramas? — has already been one of the season's biggest questions.

The Gothams, presented by the Independent Filmmaker Project, aren't historically a good Oscar predictor. But their last two top film picks, "Spotlight" and "Birdman," did go on to triumph at the Academy Awards.

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Online: https://gotham.ifp.org/

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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