Taxes and propaganda thwart hopes of would-be Potter audiences in some countries

Viewers around the world have flocked to theaters to watch the final movie of the Harry Potter epic, which raked in a record-breaking 476 million dollars on its opening weekend. But for some fans of the boy wizard, the end hasn't come quite yet. Realities of the muggle world -- ranging from taxes to politics -- have prevented Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 from reaching a large segment of the world's population.

For starters, don't even think about trying to see it in Saudi Arabia where the entire Harry Potter series is banned by authorities concerned that the story will promote witchcraft.

The film's opening in both Jordan and Indonesia has been delayed by tax disputes between the respective governments and international movie distributors. In Indonesia, the royalty issue developed when the government proposed movie importers be taxed on a film's expected revenue rather than its length, as is currently done. The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents many of Hollywood's largest studios including Warner Brothers, the producer of the Harry Potter films, balked at the expense, and in February ceased distributing films in Indonesia altogether. The parameters of the debate in Jordan are similar, with the Customs Department seeking to levy taxes based on the "intellectual property content" of films instead of their physical weight.

Many Indonesian fans are outraged by their inability to see the Potter film (as well as many other recent blockbusters), and some have even considered traveling to Malaysia or Singapore to view the movie. Hope, however, is in sight. On July 21st, Muklis Paimi, head of the Indonesian Film Censorship Board, told the Jakarta Globe that despite the unresolved royalty dispute, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Kung Fu Panda 2 should be in theaters by the end of the month.

Harry Potter is also absent from a much, much larger market: China. And, as in Indonesia and Jordan, it's not the only movie that's missing. According to Time Magazine, Gao Jun, the deputy general manager of Beijing's New Film Association, announced that Beginning of the Great Revival, a Chinese-made film on the rise of the Communist Party, must earn 124 million dollars, before foreign films will be shown in the country. Unfortunately that movie, despite its famous cast, expensive sets, and government support, has not been particularly popular.

China's market for films is growing rapidly with more than 6,200 theaters in the country and ticket sales in 2010 totaling $1.57 billion. Currently, however, the government only allows 20 foreign films to be shown in these theaters annually, and even those films are often censored.  Harry Potter is scheduled to open for Chinese audiences on August 4th. Any fans hoping to see the movie before then will have to take a page out of a Hogwarts spell-book and try a little magic -- or they can find one of the many hawkers selling a pirated version on the street.

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Israeli orchestra breaks a cultural taboo

The annual Bayreuth music festival in Germany -- which celebrates the works of German composer Richard Wagner -- kicked off today and for the first time will feature a group of musicians from Israel. Wagner, an avowed anti-Semite and an inspiration for Adolph Hitler, is rarely heard in Israel, where there is an unwritten ban on performing his music. Tomorrow, the Israel Chamber Orchestra will perform Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" for an audience at the festival. The group rehearsed for the first time yesterday after landing in Germany (they said they declined to practice the piece while in Israel).  

The Wagner family has run the festival for the past 100 years -- including during the Nazi era. But the current co-director of the festival, Katharina Wagner, the 32-year-old great-granddaughter of the composer, said she has been trying to reach out to Jewish groups. The festival plans to introduce a Jewish cultural center and Wagner has said she would open the family archives, allowing historians to see the extent of her family's relationship with the Nazis.

The Israeli group's conductor, Roberto Paternostro, explained the decision to play the music. "Wagner's ideology and anti-Semitism was terrible, but he was a great composer," he told Reuters. "The aim in 2011 is to distinguish between the man and his art."


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