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CULTURE

Lina Wertmueller: Italy’s first Oscar-nominated female film director dies

Italian film director Lina Wertmueller, the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for directing, has died aged 93.

Lina Wertmueller receiving an honorary Oscar in 2019.
Lina Wertmueller receiving an honorary Oscar in 2019. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images via AFP

“Italy mourns the death of Lina Wertmueller, a director whose class and unmistakable style left an everlasting mark on Italian and world cinema,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Thursday.

Wertmueller, considered the country’s most famous female director, began her career in movies as an assistant to Federico Fellini before going on to become the queen of Italian comedy with a series of films in the 1960s and 1970s.

Immediately recognisable with her white spectacles and a vibrant sense of humour, Wertmueller’s long list of films also explored political and social themes, from fascism and sexual violence to class struggle, often featuring a down-on-his-luck everyman character.

In 1977, Wertmueller broke barriers by becoming the first woman to be nominated for a best directing Oscar, for her tragicomedy ‘Seven Beauties’ about an army deserter during World War II trying to survive his time in a concentration camp.

Another female director would not be nominated until 1994, when Jane Campion – who has called Wertmueller a “warrior” –  was given the nod for “The Piano”.

READ ALSO: Venice film festival under fire over lack of films by women

Wertmueller’s death comes two years after she received an honorary Oscar for her career during a ceremony focused on diversity.

She told the star-studded crowd in Hollywood that the award should be given a new, feminine name – such as “Anna”, she said – to reflect female talent in the film world.

Born in Rome on August 14, 1928, Wertmueller spent her early years working in the performing arts, producing plays and as a puppeteer.

In the early 1960s, actor Marcello Mastroianni introduced her to Fellini and she became the director’s assistant on his acclaimed film “8 1/2”.

Soon after, Wertmueller began shooting her first film, 1963’s “The Basilisks”.

READ ALSO: Fellini’s La Strada: a vision of masculinity and femininity that still haunts us today

International success arrived a decade later with “The Seduction of Mimi”, released in Italy in 1972.

And in 1974, “Swept Away,” a romantic adventure about two people stranded on a desert island with radically different political views, also won acclaim, scooping the best foreign film award from the National Board of Review in the United States.

The movie was remade decades later in 2002 by Guy Ritchie, starring Madonna.

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TECHNOLOGY

IN PICTURES: Pompeii tests new robotic dog named ‘Spot’

A robot 'dog' that can collect data and alert staff to structural issues is being trialled at the historic site of Pompeii.

IN PICTURES: Pompeii tests new robotic dog named 'Spot'

Under the amused gaze of many tourists, a robot dog wanders the ancient stone alleys of Pompeii’s famous archaeological park.

Meet Spot, a friendly, yellow-and-black remote-controlled creature with a gangly gait who looks like a dog crossed with an insect – all wrapped up in a robot’s body.

Visitors to Pompeii take photos of Spot the robot.
Visitors to Pompeii take photos of Spot the robot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Spot’s current mission at Pompeii is to inspect hard-to-access areas of the sprawling ruins, to collect data and alert his handlers to safety and structural problems.

“Particularly underground structures where safety conditions won’t allow (staff) to enter, such as in the park’s many very narrow and dangerous tunnels,” Pompeii’s general director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

Pompeii's site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel poses with Spot.Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel poses with Spot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

His purvey includes surveying tunnels dug out in clandestine excavations, which Zuchtriegel said “unfortunately still take place in the area”.

With its excavated ruins spread out over 44 hectares (109 acres), the archaeological site preserves the remains of the ancient wealthy city south of Naples, buried by ash after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Spot is driven through an underground tunnel by a technician.

Spot is driven through an underground tunnel by a technician. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Spot – who weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and is about the size of a Golden Retriever – is controlled remotely with a tablet and better equipped than people to survey certain areas of the park.

The robot is made by US company Boston Dynamics, which specialises in robotics, including for the military.

READ ALSO: Italian researchers unearth ancient fast food joint in Pompeii

The company’s website says Spot can be used in industries such as construction, mining and manufacturing, among others, carrying out inspections and capturing data.

Spot in an underground tunnel beneath Pompeii.
Spot in an underground tunnel beneath Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Controlling Spot this week in Pompeii was Valerio Brunelli, business developer for Leica Geosystem, which makes a 3D flying scanner, resembling a drone, that accompanies the robot in its rounds.

Brunelli made Spot bow and wiggle for the crowd.

Technicians handle the robot.

Technicians handle the robot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

“Spot is an amalgamation of technology that makes it a robot capable of exploring very complicated places, such as those found here,” said Brunelli.

“It’s a leap into the future for a thousand-year-old park”.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: The treasures unearthed during Pompeii’s six-year restoration

The robot is being used on a trial basis and comes with a $75,000 price tag.

Spot walks among the ruins of Pompeii.

Spot walks among the ruins of Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Director Zuchtriegel said a decision on whether or not to buy Spot had not yet been made, but that rapid changes in the technology sector made choosing expensive, high-tech purchases difficult.

“People are always needed, so there will never be a robot dog to be the guardian inside the Pompeii site. That is not the goal.”

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