Visual Liberation: Where It All Began

Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s “Ways of Seeing”


Visual Liberation is decolonizing the gaze and conception of movies and celebrating the underdog’s vision of life as it pertains to challenging racism, misogyny, and capitalism on screen…and in life.

The Brecht Forum’s poster for the 2002 Visual Liberation Film Festival: a program of radical humanist filmmaking in NYC.

Visual Liberation (or “Cinematic Decolonization”) refers to movies that are made with the purpose of freeing both the audience and the creator’s minds, freeing them of the shackles of mental oppression, the remnants of a colonized (brainwashed) mind.  Whether they are mainstream, downstream, commercial movies or obscure films — it doesn’t matter. But they must exhibit some kind of genuine revolt within their frames. And they must not be films with a corporate agenda exploiting social unrest and “issues” that are fashionable, which is what Hollywood and advertising have done, rendering true revolutionary fervor obsolete, ironic, or safe.

What we forget – or perhaps never directly acknowledge– is the fact that what we regard as a “movie,” in the traditional American Hollywood sense, is a conception of the Western World’s White Ruling Class. It’s disturbing that, instead of trying to evolve one’s own aesthetic and ideas of how to usurp the rules dictated and imposed by Hollywood filmmaking, filmmakers with a social conscience attempt to make “important” message movies by using the very same rules and techniques and beliefs created by the hallmark of racism and misogyny: Hollywood.

Visual Liberation is at once personal, political, and radical in both and style and content. These are simply movies made as “Protest Films” the way protest music is made and oppose capitalist and xenophobic values (Hollywood) and regards socially conscious cinema as a combination of radical acting, writing, directing, editing, etc

Entire roster/program for the 2002 Visual Liberation film festival at the Brecht Forum, notice the variety of movies.

Visual Liberation is an ever-changing list of films and discussions about movies that could potentially be regarded as literal “protest” films.  The goal of this is to remind ourselves that true insurgent art does (and can) exist within the marginalized and oppressed classes who don’t need permission to make films, that marketing companies don’t own history and socially conscious films don’t need to be dictated to and produced by Corporate Media companies in order to be “important”. 

Dennis Leroy Kangalee has written, theorized, and executed “protest cinema” and now after nearly 20 years later of having the honor of closing the Brecht Forum’s Visual Liberation film festival in 2002, his ideas and ruminations on narrative filmmaking and revolution have developed into a series of sketches/essays that becoming the blueprint for a podcast dedicated to reinstating the venom of insurrectionary art and the danger of ideas/emotions presented on screen; celebrating well known scenes from beloved mainstream films to depictions from the outer edges of our society, removed from the radar of the zeitgeist and always acknowledging the power of those under acknowledged films that rightfully deserve their place and critical assessment -alongside the best of Rap and Punk rock albums.

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned about the podcast and the program notes that go live in September, 2021.

Visual Liberation: Episode 2

Excerpted brainstorms from Podcast Episode Two:

Midnight meditations on flickers, Paul Robeson, the morality of performing in front of a camera, and the embryo of a wobbly cinema

 https://anchor.fm/dennis-leroy-kangalee/episodes/The-Black-Russians-and-Notes-for-a-Wobbly-Cinema-e1ai0em/a-a6v85tr

Episode Two – Excerpts, Notes & Brainstorms from November 19, 2021 12:48AM

*

…I light the candle – and like a film reel running through a projector in the head – I stare at the subtle dips and dives of shadows it tosses – I lay on the floor and I stare up at the ceiling and watch the flickers above the candle dance above the photo of Robeson and Eisenstein…(You wonder what John Berger might have made of it)

The shadows remind me not of the perfunctory Plato’s allegory of the cave – cause in Kangalee’s Cave we’re prisoners of truth, reality is never far from us; if anything we crave fantasy!

But the flickers remind me of the feeling I had as a young artist, the excitement I felt thinking about the plays I’d done…and the films I hoped to one day see.

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman beautifully conceded that if theater was his wife, film was his mistress.  In some way I could relate – but for me and in my formative conception of Visual Liberation —  it was if art was my wife and activism was my mistress.  But one day I realized:  it is quite possible to  have all your desires in ONE BOOK.

(Speaking of books:  read John Tytell’s “Art Exile and Outrage.” About Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s performance group, The Living Theater and the extraordinary combination of Brecht and Artaud in American political Theater. )

*

Last month I mentioned 3 films – all quite different and none prescriptions of or my conception of a revolutionary film – but each in its own way certainly radical – and therefore an example of Visual Liberation —  Chameleon St, Shadows and Dog Day Afternoon.

I realized later why I mentioned these films:  the black consciousness and majestic anarchism of Harris’ masterpiece coincided with my own aesthetic connection to Cassavetes’ jazz-inspired slice of life method-acting jam on identity, race, art, and friendship. All these themes and ideas seemed to coalesce for me in a passionate way simply by witnessing Al Pacino’s diatribes against the system in Dog Day Afternoon.  I also mentioned Tytell’s book because Malina plays Pacino’s mother in the film…and was a real-life mentor of sorts. Her presence in Dog Day Afternoon underscores its revolutionary fervor, there’s an almost organized Artaudian mood – an impulse to literally riot – within the frames of that one movie by that Hollywood radical himself, Sidney Lumet…

Let’s get back to candles:

These midnight gesticulations on the wall made me think of my trip to Moscow in 1992.I don’t know why maybe it’s because that’s where I first smoked a cigarette and discovered when the glimmer of a candle had burned out: that Pushkin was a black man (the statue of him in Moscow is a site to see)…and that Jean Genet was a prophet of sorts, I had witnessed Roman Victuc’s production of the Maids and instantly realized what an Artaudian experience could be in the theater.  1992: Bush SR was still president. I was 16 – and it was The year I discovered Paul Robeson, Eisenstein and made sense of my visit to the Moscow art theater.

*

American Protest music and American Protest film – Political Filmmaking in a Left-Wing sense; a Wobbly Cinema if you will —

Dylan, Cash, Seeger, Havens, Joan Baez, Odetta, Bessie Smith…Billie Holiday. 

When I mention these American artists what do you think of?

Now, let’s think about this in terms of a specific form of American movies.

 Aesthetic and Ideological Foundation: Micheaux, Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Clarke, Menelik Shabbaz, Fronza Woods, Julie Dash, Michael Roemer, MVP, Pasolini, Kramer, Cassavetes, Ivan Dixon, etc. Within this…underlying all of this is Paul Robeson.

The spirit of Robeson, who insisted you have to be on one side of oppression or the other.  And the artist to him was a moralist who had to fight against abuse, poverty, genocide, and rape.

Recently Rosalie Gancie, artist and publisher in MD, had shared a lovely facsmile of a program circa, 1954-1955 of an announcement declaring a Calypso band at a gathering in support of Paul Robeson who had lost his passport; and the supporting fundraiser – happily endorsed by Charlie Chaplin –she shared the event materials on social media and it was so interesting to see it…and it immediately made me embarrassed at how the Left have shrunk artistically and culturally in POP and in the underground, or the fringes.  

One of the greatest performing artists of the twentieth century and one of the towering figures of the left as well as one its worst ambassador’s, ironically, for cinema.

Tragically Robeson was one of The White Man’s Movie Industry’s grossest unintentional accomplices for the of stereotypes and derogatory projections of black actors in film. He was a prisoner of the white gaze, while knowing full well – in the end, that his revolutionary desires in cinema had been highjacked and betrayed by his trust and belief that most of the white people he worked with in film would enable what he wanted to do for the common man, the working man…and especially the person of African descent. He never came off the way he wanted to in a movie…

 The exceptions are few, but most notably Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul (one of the only movies I can watch him in)

 ( I highly suggest you read Susan Robeson’s book about her grandfather’s struggle for more detailed information about this.  One of the several heartbreaking ingredients of his life…)

Because there is very little freewheeling revolutionary spirit and dignity in many of the motion pictures he acted in, it’s hard to watch him at all, frankly, on screen — I think it was Ruby Dee who lamented that she could never watch a movie he was in…and part of this reason is because it is a political and moral choice and vulnerability to perform in front of a camera and/or allow another human being to “capture” a part of you through a lens.  Think about it:  it’s a take.

“Let’s do a take.”

“Can’t take your photo?”

Or “Let’s take your photo.” As if I have it already and will transfer it someplace else?

“We’re gonna do another take. This time when you look at her, try not to blink.”

The Actor has to now open himself up to…what?

Nothing perhaps. Maybe that’s better. A take. Hmm.

As in…”take my soul,” but leave my body in tact? What is taken? Is the Western conception of film ultimately about the taking and capturing? Is it essentially about taming the subject into a ‘frame’ and recording death of the spirit; extinguishing the passion that cannot be contained?

In photography, they even say “Can I shoot you?”

(A riff on Taking, Capturing, & Shooting A Creature, Idea or Feeling With a Camera: The Western conception of film is about more than dominance, it is about conquest and colonizing a subject, a person, an event, a place and sticking a flag into its gut, while declaring the gardeners through to give up their seeds for the camera! From Herzog to Coppola, the film director is the last talisman of the White Romantic Colonizer who sets out to dictate to others what he cannot create in his own home!

When the bourgeoisie locked up and burned down the Shaman’s vision quest – that ran the gamut of every emotion – it scared the French, embarrassed the English, and made the German, Spanish, and Italians suspicious. To the former, language and behavior was about moving up and through a society; to the latin languages and the more insistent Caucasian tribes — it was about using language as both a strong greeting and even stronger goodbye; getting you into the boat and getting you out. Everything in between was tea. Only a Brit with a dumb camera around his neck ominously like a gun with a silencer could ask an Indigenous or African chief he’d just pounded into a deck of boat after having raped his sister (out of sight, of course) – “Would you mind if I shot you?” )

But for a moment consider what Paul Robeson was up against.

Here was this brilliant man, tall, stately, athletic with an incredible voice who was a wonderful stage actor and an even better singer and orator.

(And a remarkable writer, by the way.)

He was light years ahead of himself – and his vision was greater than anyone around him could probably conceive; his wife certainly was a loving accomplice…and he was quite admired by Sergei Eisenstein, whom Robeson in turn, had respect for.  You wonder “Why didn’t they work together?”

 Well, you can certainly bet the USA would never have allowed THAT to happen.  And yes, it was that bad and YES they do have that power (namely cause we give it to them)

The forces that be will always make sure that highly talented, gifted or brilliant people (in any capacity) NEVER work together, collaborate or commune.  They will always try to separate them. 

 *

And now I leave you with this:

“On The Willful Ignorance of Andrei Tarkovsky:”

Mikhail Romm (1901-1971) was a Soviet Film Director and Teacher. His film 

“Dream” (1941) – about spiritual crisis and poverty – was supposedly deemed by FDR as being one the greatest films ever made. In 1956, his student Andrei Tarkovsky made his first film, “The Killers.” It was a student thesis movie. Based on a Hemingway short story, Romm admonished Tarkovsky for having the lack of imagination and sensitivity for shamefully employing an actor in black-face in the movie! Romm told Tarkovsky – who had previously been studying Arabic! – that he had learned nothing about humanity and that he had no imagination. He decried that the young man had defiled the memory of the greatest Russian Poet, Alexander Pushkin – who was black! (Indeed, the film is disappointing in that it reveals the casual racism of the White world at that time via the young and ignorant Tarkovsky. But it’s very telling and revealing that such an “innocently racist” young man would become a deeply compassionate and humane filmmaker a few years later.) In any event, Romm would have none of it, he chided Tarkovsky for being influenced by Fascism and American racism and deemed him counter-revolutionary. In the next 2 years, the young Tarkovsky did a lot of soul searching. Legend also has it that Paul Robeson visited Romm after one of his 1959 concerts at Lenin Stadium (Khabarovsk) when the USA’s ban on his passport had been lifted. Romm refused to introduce the young Tarkovsky for fear of Robeson wanting to see the lad’s first film. I assume somewhere in all this…The great Tarkovsky had learned a valuable lesson and came to understand in the words of King: that there is nothing “more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

 We need to return to the embryo of THE NEED FOR A RADICAL CINEMA.

If you are making a film — Have something more to say than ACTION!

Peace. 

*

https://anchor.fm/dennis-leroy-kangalee/embed/episodes/The-Black-Russians-and-Notes-for-a-Wobbly-Cinema-e1ai0em

The Wit & Warmth of Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins’ The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy gives us an urge to be free, to literally want to run and “find ourselves.”

Click here to read last month’s piece in the Luminal Theater’s Wavelengths — my “review” and remembrance of Kathleen Collins’ warm and loving first feature, The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy – her remarkable introduction into the world of long-form narrative filmmaking . Collins’ sparkling humor and insight into life was not only attractive, but muscular and always curious on screen. Her intelligence alone would make most director’s tremble in their boots. And all of this organically and humbly developed into style which she draped into a confident shawl with her masterwork, Losing Ground.

Visual Liberation: The Podcast

Revolution Through a Lens: a new way of watching…

Visual Liberation is a way of watching films through a Marxist/Fanonian lens.

They are films and interpretations of those films that champion the fight against the Hollywood celebrations of racism, misogyny, and all other talismans of capitalism. This radical approach to filmmaking is a pedagogy that has been in development since 2000, exemplified in the film As an Act of Protest and surveyed in essays and articles since then, including the 2001 “Notes from the Underground” manifesto, a radical response to the Danish Dogme 95 movement. The first Visual Liberation film program was held in a self-titled festival at the Brecht Forum in 2002, in New York City.

Visual Liberation is both a curriculum that can be implemented in educational institutions as well as an approach to life and creating art. Its goal is in freeing both the audience and the artist in however the “political message” is being relayed by the author/director. In art, the how is as vital as the what. So-called “political films” in the mainstream have forgotten this.

Visual Liberation dismantles the notion that film is hierarchical and inherently fascistic and must be a Nationalist tool. While Audre Lorde is correct to declare one can’t eradicate the system with the instruments the system created, it is also worth noting how those instruments are played and used. Filmmakers can have agency and invigorate an alternative culture and view of both cinema and what it means to be socially conscious.

Through bare-bones intimate casual reflections, this “sermon,” or midnight ramble, is an explicit and personal oral rendering of written essays by Dennis Leroy Kangalee (DLK) reminding Leftist artists what it means to imbue their ideologies in narrative films, positing that “protest cinema” should be on par with American protest music and to help enable the battle against the Left’s cultural quandary and the damage done by American mainstream movies.

Pedagogical, personal, political and always poetic – this is the beginning of a new way of watching cinema.

The podcast is available now on Anchor and Spotify!

https://anchor.fm/dennis-leroy-kangalee/episodes/Visual-Liberation-Introduction-e181ndj/a-a6k1n5t

Visual Liberation: Mambety Speaks…

A Cinematic Genius warns against the dangers of capitalism…

“We are done. I’m not speaking only about us here in Africa but of humanity, of man… The feeling I have is that we are done for if we have traded our souls for money.”

—Djibril Diop Mambéty,  Director of “Touki Bouki” & “Hyenas,” 1945-1998

Mambetycamera
Djibril Diop Mambety, Senegals’s Rebel Filmmaker 

Most radical spirits and those who wished to “change the world” (a hollow term at this point) have left the arts, incredulous and overwhelmed that the “Arts” have devolved after having been wholly won over by corporate values and American imperialist hegemony.  The bourgeois affectation of middle-brow cinema has destroyed us: “Movies should be intelligent, but not dangerous to the establishment,” they demand. Even worse, everyone from Oprah Winfrey to HBO are in collusion and so 

we all

give in. 

There are very few people on this planet who see cinema as a liberation tool.  Instead, it is fair to say as Mambety lamented, that we have sold ourselves out…and for nothing in return except the specter of shadows and awards from the spectacle. All that seek to keep one enslaved. In this Brave New World, we not only accept this- we want this!

And while these Visigoths have obviously won (knowing full well the impact cinema could have on future liberation politics) – it is the perversion of the mirror we look into that disturbs me. Warped surfaces reflect our obscene desires and most heartfelt delusions. As if Frantz Fanon had written The Portrait of Dorian Gray – the gross image of our soul that hangs in the closet must be revealed and it’s own mask removed. It’s the mask of the mask of the mask that must be removed.

Keep storming the barricades of your imagination.  And for the love (or hate) of man – if you pick up a camera to make a movie have something to say other than “Action!” 

*Djibril Diop Mambety, the darker side of Senegals’s coin (Ousmane Sembene reflecting the lighter side) is the director of masterworks such as Touki Bouki and Hyenas, the only features he ever made. His work is taut, unrelenting and shaded with funereal satire. A radical in every way, he never pretended that life was getting any better and he never looked away from the problems inherent in his own life, Senegal, colonialism and the world at large.

Visual Liberation: Where It All Began

Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s “Ways of Seeing”

Visual Liberation is decolonizing the gaze and conception of movies and celebrating the underdog’s vision of life as it pertains to challenging racism, misogyny, and capitalism on screen…and in life.

The Brecht Forum’s poster for the 2002 Visual Liberation Film Festival: a program of radical humanist filmmaking in NYC.

Visual Liberation (or “Cinematic Decolonization”) refers to movies that are made with the purpose of freeing both the audience and the creator’s minds, freeing them of the shackles of mental oppression, the remnants of a colonized (brainwashed) mind.  Whether they are mainstream, downstream, commercial movies or obscure films — it doesn’t matter. But they must exhibit some kind of genuine revolt within their frames. And they must not be films with a corporate agenda exploiting social unrest and “issues” that are fashionable, which is what Hollywood and advertising have done, rendering true revolutionary fervor obsolete, ironic, or safe.

What we forget – or perhaps never directly acknowledge– is the fact that what we regard as a “movie,” in the traditional American Hollywood sense, is a conception of the Western World’s White Ruling Class. It’s disturbing that, instead of trying to evolve one’s own aesthetic and ideas of how to usurp the rules dictated and imposed by Hollywood filmmaking, filmmakers with a social conscience attempt to make “important” message movies by using the very same rules and techniques and beliefs created by the hallmark of racism and misogyny: Hollywood.

Visual Liberation is at once personal, political, and radical in both and style and content. These are simply movies made as “Protest Films” the way protest music is made and oppose capitalist and xenophobic values (Hollywood) and regards socially conscious cinema as a combination of radical acting, writing, directing, editing, etc

Entire roster/program for the 2002 Visual Liberation film festival at the Brecht Forum, notice the variety of movies.

Visual Liberation is an ever-changing list of films and discussions about movies that could potentially be regarded as literal “protest” films.  The goal of this is to remind ourselves that true insurgent art does (and can) exist within the marginalized and oppressed classes who don’t need permission to make films, that marketing companies don’t own history and socially conscious films don’t need to be dictated to and produced by Corporate Media companies in order to be “important”. 

Dennis Leroy Kangalee has written, theorized, and executed “protest cinema” and now after nearly 20 years later of having the honor of closing the Brecht Forum’s Visual Liberation film festival in 2002, his ideas and ruminations on narrative filmmaking and revolution have developed into a series of sketches/essays that becoming the blueprint for a podcast dedicated to reinstating the venom of insurrectionary art and the danger of ideas/emotions presented on screen; celebrating well known scenes from beloved mainstream films to depictions from the outer edges of our society, removed from the radar of the zeitgeist and always acknowledging the power of those under acknowledged films that rightfully deserve their place and critical assessment -alongside the best of Rap and Punk rock albums.

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned about the podcast and the program notes that go live in September, 2021.

A New Way

In our new way

We saw the electricity finally that had been there all this time as if a current had exploded right in front of us demanding to be seen and not necessarily heard…but acknowledged. Its joy had returned. As if the television went from Black and white into technicolor. And all that time we held our breathes foolishly, as if we were not going to make it. And we realized we were 44 not 14 and that was a beautiful thing… because although we’d seen the lower depths we could at least now imagine the greatest heights. And that was good enough. And if colors can remind you of that- or even your own reflection in the mirror (finally) well damn it you’ve kicked the insides of the snipers who await silently with the cops in your head ready to arrest your bliss at any moment. You won. And you can’t believe it. Cause you could never simply admit that you were worth more than the world you entered wanted you to believe.

“Portrait” Drawing by Joshua Kibuka (c) 2020

Philosophy

Yeats: It takes more courage to plumb our own depths than it takes for a soldier on a battlefield.

Montaigne: How can we learn about “Truth” if we don’t learn HOW to die.

To learn how to die, in order to be reborn — that is truth
Truth as way of life, allow suffering to speak (Adorno)

Bluesmen – the funk, stench, suffering of life in all its shades; personal catastrophe lyrically expressed. Dissonance. Not “harmonious” or “romantic.”


Failed – means tried.  Didn’t succeed…that’s all? Experiment built on dispossession and marginalization.


Plato banned the flute but not the lyre in the republic.

Socrates -?


Zizek: “Revolutionaries need poets”

Me: Jimmy Garrett’s play “We Own The Night” contains more tragedy and catharsis and profundity than all of Sophocles plays.

Zedekoah 5: Create Your Own

Create your own.  Don’t join.  Ever.  When you seek to join you aim to give up freedom and possibilities that you have not yet even tested or given any attention to.  If the world is so interesting and so compelling why are so many people , especially artists, in a rush to join organizations, festivals, groups, committees, schools, etc – that do nothing but coerce them into giving up their own off beat for the steady hum-drum of the Zeitgeist Parade?  If you’re lonely and are seeking “understanding” or allies after years of pounding pavements or digging trenches then either consider getting a dog…or joining yourself first.  Allies will come. And I do believe in miracles.  But you must first cherish the loneliness, the outsider within.  It may be the only honest thing in your life. But for the love of man or animal or cloud or tree – please don’t sell out…in order to buy in.

Zed5
Sometimes the answers are in the loneliness of a 2AM letter or text message or phone call…

Sins & Trespasses-prologue [Zedekoah excerpt 2]

 We are The Hanging Man

 the invisible,

The Ghost land

The indivisible mind and broken sun

with rays jagged and scattered

As if striking against each parted slice of glass

Broken with the frame

 The mirror is no more

 It is the hanging man, son. Don’t say you saw it. Don’t see him. Lie, if anything. But to see

is to be

And lord knows the hanging man

Is me.

*

Philip K. Dick, circa 1970, with his cat [photographer unknown]
There is a Philip K. Dick story “The Hanging Stranger” that sums up our problem in 21st-century pop culture, academia, and so-called cultural establishment which is this: we claim the emperor’s wearing clothes…when he’s not even an emperor.

In Dick’s story, only the conscious can see “the hanging man” whose bloated body twists in the town square

And so the aliens who have taken over must remove them one by one. They know you’re a conscious person simply if you panic and recoil in horror at the sight of a hanging person. The minute you mention it is the minute you are persona non grata. And you will be swiftly terminated. It is a phenomenal metaphor to the blacklisted genius or simply the truth-seeking artist. It is anyone who does not follow the rules, marches to his own beat, and knows – but can’t prove – that the system is not only rigged but insidious.

It’s what’s occurring right now at this very moment in formal activism, it’s what’s already destroyed institutes of higher learning.  And it has killed – if not erased completely – organized art.

There is a Nina Simone recording which sums up Dick’s story in music.

The song, Everyone’s Gone To The Moon, written by the oddball British songwriter Jonathan King, is a bizarre rendering of a world losing its grip on consciousness and ‘morality’ for lack of a better word. As if we’re through the looking glass and up is down, bad is good, etc. This is a gross simplification but the point is that by the end of the song the singer wonders if everyone has gone to the moon instead of the sun as she might prefer – so what will happen to us/to life as we know it?

 

The Essential Nina Simone Vol. 2 (RCA) contains songs of empathy, distress, love, and protest. “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” can be found here.

It was a junkie who first told me that the song was simply about getting high and what would happen if everybody junked out.  Of course, the great irony in all this is that most gravely ill junkies or hardcore abusers are addicts who know that the world they are living in is not upside down, but right-side up in a world turned upside-down. People released from jail sometimes have a better perception of this because they see life as clear John Berger clearly explained it – the 21st century is nothing but one massive prison system.

Simone’s interpretation of Everyone’s Gone to the Moon is a freaky and majestic absurdist turn. In her high priestess wail, she is sincere and yet there’s a faint sound of nonchalance in her voice, almost – almost– as if she doesn’t have the strength to care. It is haunting because she’s alone. Everyone around her has decided to not see the hanging man.

What does this mean?

*

Our casemate has been infiltrated, we may not have much of an arsenal, but at least we had our own embrasures through which cinematic torpedoes and art could be launched.

 

________________

 

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