He partnered with friends to produce stunning original technology that would give movie viewers an immersive, stadium-like experience.
Graeme Ferguson, a Canadian documentarian who cocreated Imax, the panoramic cinema experience that immerses audiences in movies, and was the chief creative force of the company for years, died on May 8 at his home in Lake of Bays, Ontario. He was 91.
His son, Munro Ferguson, said the cause was cancer.
In the 1960s, Mr. Ferguson was making a name for himself as a young cinematographer known for working in the cinéma vérité style when he was asked to direct a documentary about the Arctic and Antarctic for the Expo 67 world’s fair in Montreal. He traveled for a year filming the movie, which included footage of Inuit life and the aurora borealis.
The documentary, “Polar Life,” was screened in an immersive theater configuration: Audiences sat on a rotating turntable as the movie played on a panorama of 11 fixed screens. The experience was a hit. Another movie at Expo 67 that similarly used multiple screens, “In the Labyrinth,” was directed by Roman Kroitor, who was Mr. Ferguson’s brother-in-law. Soon, the two men had a vision.
“We asked each other, wouldn’t it be better to have had or been able to have a single, large-format projector filling a large screen?” Mr. Ferguson told Take One, a Canadian film magazine, in 1997. “Obviously the next step was to have a large film format, larger than anything that had ever been done.”
“We said, ‘Let’s invent this new medium.’”
But despite Imax’s stunning technology, Mr. Ferguson struggled for decades to persuade investors to embrace his vision. In a tale of innovation, setbacks and adversity, his company nearly went under several times, and it took years for Imax to become fully realized as the cinematic marvel it is today.
“People kept telling us nobody would sit still for 90 minutes and watch an Imax film,” Mr. Ferguson told Take One. “We were told that endlessly.”
Mr. Ferguson had already asked Robert Kerr, a former high school friend who had become a successful businessman, to be their partner, and he next enlisted William Shaw, another former high school buddy who had become an engineer, to help come up with Imax technology. They soon developed prototypes for the camera and large-format projector needed to film and show Imax movies.
The group was eager to debut their technology at the 1970 Osaka Expo in Japan, so they made an overture to a Japanese bank, Fuji, for funding. They showed a delegation of bank officials their Imax offices in New York and Montreal, both filled with industrious employees. Impressed by what they saw, Fuji Bank signed off on the project.
What the delegates didn’t know was that the New York office was Mr. Ferguson’s freelance studio and that the Montreal headquarters were production rooms that Mr. Kroitor had rented out just days earlier.
The first Imax movie, “Tiger Child,” premiered at Expo 70 in Osaka not long after. Though the movie was successful, the company continued to struggle with financing.
Back in Toronto, Mr. Ferguson heard that a new amusement park called Ontario Place was planning to build a large-screen theater. He approached its team, and they agreed to purchase an Imax projector. In 1971, Ontario Place began showing “North of Superior,” an Imax documentary directed by Mr. Ferguson about Northern Ontario’s wilderness. The venue became Imax’s first permanent theater and the model for future Imax cinemas.
Imax thrust viewers into unexpected realms throughout the 1970s: “Circus World” was a documentary about the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus; “To Fly!” chronicled the wonders of flight; and “Ocean” was about underwater life.
In the 1980s, Mr. Ferguson approached NASA with an idea to put moviegoers in space by training astronauts to use Imax cameras on spacecraft. The collaboration resulted in several successful documentaries that established the Imax brand.
Mr. Ferguson and his fellow founders sold the company in 1994, when they were in their 60s, to two American businessmen, Richard Gelfond and Bradley Wechsler, who acquired Imax in a leveraged buyout and took the brand public. In the Take One interview, Mr. Ferguson admitted his surprise at how challenging it was to find a buyer, even with the company’s established success.
“The reaction time to anything new is always longer than the inventor can ever imagine,” he said. “You think you might have built the better mousetrap and the world will come to your door the next morning, but they will beat the way to your door about five years later. That’s really how the world works.”
Mr. Ferguson remained involved with the company after it was sold, working as a consultant and producer of films like “L5: First City in Space” (1996), “Hubble 3-D” (2010) and “A Beautiful Planet” (2016), which was narrated by Jennifer Lawrence.
Ivan Graeme Ferguson was born on Oct. 7, 1929, in Toronto and grew up in nearby Galt. His father, Frank, was an English teacher. His mother, Grace (Warner) Ferguson, was an elementary-school teacher. His parents gave him a Brownie camera when he was 7, and he used it to photograph steamships on Lake Rosseau, about 120 miles north of Toronto.
In 1948, he enrolled at the University of Toronto to study political science and economics. The avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren taught a workshop at the university one semester, and he became her lighting assistant. She encouraged him to abandon economics and make movies instead.
In the 1960s, Mr. Ferguson worked as a cameraman in New York and collaborated with filmmakers associated with the cinéma vérité movement, like D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles. He worked for Adolfas Mekas and shot footage for an Oscar-nominated documentary called “Rooftops of New York” (1961).
His marriage to Betty Ramsaur in 1959 ended in divorce in 1974. In 1982, he married Phyllis Wilson, a filmmaker who became his creative collaborator and produced several Imax movies with him. She died in March at 70.
In addition to his son, from his first marriage, Mr. Ferguson is survived by a daughter, Allison, also from his first marriage; two sisters, Janet Kroitor and Mary Hooper; a brother, Bill; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
In his late 60s, Mr. Ferguson settled with his wife in a sprawling stone cottage on Lake of Bays that he had bought after the Imax sale. Mr. Kerr and Mr. Shaw also lived in homes on the lake, about 140 miles north of Toronto, and the men often worked on their boats together. After Mr. Kroitor died in 2012, Mr. Ferguson became the last living Imax founder.
Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Ferguson read bleak reports about the state of Hollywood and the shift in viewing habits, with streaming video luring audiences from theaters. But he wasn’t worried about the fate of Imax.
“He was completely convinced it would flourish even if the rest of the exhibition industry was going to do much worse,” his son, Munro, said, “because he believed that if you’re going to leave your house, you might as well go see something amazing.”
Morgan Stanley says no vaccine, no entry.
Morgan Stanley will require employees and visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus when they enter its New York offices next month.
Starting July 12, employees, contingent workers, clients and visitors at Morgan Stanley’s buildings in New York City and Westchester County must attest that they are fully vaccinated, a person familiar with the matter said, citing a memo from Mandell Crawley, the bank’s chief human resources officer. Staff members who don’t will be required to work remotely, added the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss personnel-related matters.
Although the requirement relies on an honor system for now rather than proof of vaccination, it will allow the bank to lift other pandemic protocols, such as face coverings and physical distancing. Some office spaces for Morgan Stanley’s institutional securities, investment and wealth management divisions already allow only those who have gotten their shots to work from their desks.
Companies across America are grappling with the question of whether to ask employees about their vaccination status, or to require those returning to offices to be vaccinated. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said last month that both actions were legal. Still, some senior executives have worried about pushback from employees.
This month, Goldman Sachs said its employees in the United States would have to report their vaccination status. Other big Wall Street banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, are encouraging workers to disclose their vaccination status voluntarily. BlackRock, the asset manager, will allow only vaccinated staff to return to the office beginning next month, Bloomberg reported. Those firms, however, stopped short of also asking clients and visitors to attest to being vaccinated.
The Financial Times reported earlier on Morgan Stanley’s vaccine requirements.
Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.
Broadway’s ‘Music Man’ Names British Producer, Kate Horton, to Replace Rudin
Kate Horton will become executive producer of the show, which stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. It is scheduled to begin performances on Dec. 20.
A veteran British theater administrator will take over the day-to-day management of a starry Broadway revival of “The Music Man,” assuming many of the duties previously performed by Scott Rudin.
The administrator, Kate Horton, who previously held high-level management positions at the National Theater, Royal Court Theater and Royal Shakespeare Company in England, will become executive producer of “The Music Man,” which stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, and which is scheduled to begin performances on Dec. 20 and to open Feb. 10.
Rudin, who was the revival’s lead producer, departed that role earlier this year, saying he was stepping back from all of his theater and film productions amid renewed scrutiny of his bullying behavior toward subordinates and collaborators.
Horton was hired by the business titans Barry Diller and David Geffen, who had been producing the revival alongside Rudin, and who are now the sole lead producers. The production, at the Winter Garden Theater, reunites much of the creative team behind the Tony-winning 2017 revival of “Hello, Dolly!,” led by the director Jerry Zaks.
Horton currently runs, with her longtime collaborator Dominic Cooke, a British producing company called Fictionhouse. She was previously deputy executive director of the National Theater, executive director of the Royal Court Theater and commercial director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She and Rudin both were previously involved with the team behind Little Island, a new park and performance space in New York, but no longer have any role there, a spokeswoman said.
Horton declined a request for an interview.
“The Music Man,” like many Broadway shows, has been delayed by the pandemic. It was originally scheduled to open last fall. The show sold a large number of tickets before the pandemic; rather than refunding those tickets, as many shows did, the production exchanged them for future seats. During the pandemic, the producers stopped selling new tickets; tickets to the show are going back on sale starting Tuesday.
Several other Rudin-related Broadway productions have found new leadership teams. A stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” named Orin Wolf as executive producer; the musical “The Book of Mormon” and the play “The Lehman Trilogy” said their existing leadership teams would simply proceed without Rudin. (“The Book of Mormon” is overseen by members of the “South Park” team, while “The Lehman Trilogy” is overseen by Britain’s National Theater.)
Fed’s Williams emphasizes flexibility in the central bank’s inflation goal.
John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said on Monday that he expects the recent acceleration in price gains to prove temporary, and offered an optimistic view of the nation’s economic outlook as widespread vaccines and business reopenings drive growth.
Still, Mr. Williams cautioned “the data and conditions have not progressed enough” for the Fed’s policymaking committee “to shift its monetary policy stance of strong support for the economic recovery.” Mr. Williams was delivering remarks before the Midsize Bank Coalition of America.
“There is a lot of uncertainty out there,” Mr. Williams later said, while speaking to reporters following the event. “I see risk management as just part of any reasonable policy strategy. I do think there are risks to both sides.”
The Fed has held its policy interest rate at near-zero since March 2020 and is buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies that are meant to keep many kinds of borrowing cheap, pushing money through the economy and bolstering demand. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, indicated after the central bank’s June meeting last week that officials are beginning to talk about their plan for slowing those bond purchases as the economy recovers from a sharp pandemic hit.
Fed policymakers at that meeting also predicted they might lift interest rates earlier than they had expected, with more than half estimating two rate increases in 2023. Previously, officials hadn’t anticipated moving interest rates away from rock bottom until 2024, at the earliest.
Investors are now trying to parse that change and figure out what it says about how the Fed is thinking about its inflation goal. The Fed, which updated its inflation target last year, now aims for 2 percent inflation on average over time, meaning it will welcome periods of slightly-higher inflation to offset periods of weak price gains.
Mr. Powell played down the importance of individual Fed official forecasts for rate increases when he spoke last week. Mr. Williams, who is one of the Fed’s other most powerful and influential officials, joined him on Monday, highlighting that the committee does not discuss or vote on their economic projections.
The New York Fed president also shot down an idea that has taken hold among many Wall Street analysts since last week’s meeting — that the upgraded path for interest rates means the Fed is going to judge that its average inflation goal is satisfied by a big, but short lived burst in price gains this year.
“We chose consciously, and carefully chose, not to have a formula for the average inflation rate,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s not a specific formula.”
The Fed will be watching price gains over an unspecified time period and aiming for stable, well-placed inflation expectations, Mr. Williams said. He personally does not expect the current bout of higher inflation to last.
“My view is that the spike in inflation mostly reflects the temporary effects of the surprisingly rapid opening of the economy,” he said. There are risks both that inflation will be higher than wanted and that it could fall below the Fed’s goal, he added.
“You could see inflation coming in lower than expected,” he said, if supply chain disruptions reverse rapidly or if the global economic recovery lags. But that’s a possibility — not his forecast.
“I have a very positive baseline,” Mr. Williams said.
Smithfield Foods Is Accused of Stoking Fears of a Meat Shortage
The group claims there were ample supplies of meat in cold storage even as Smithfield warned that the country was in danger of running out of meat.
Smithfield Foods was one of the first companies to warn that the country was in danger of running out of meat as coronavirus infections ripped through processing plants in April 2020 and health officials pressured the industry to halt some production to protect workers.
Now, a lawsuit filed last week by Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, accuses the giant pork producer of falsely stoking consumer fears and misleading the public.
The suit says the nation was never in danger of running out of meat. It claims there were ample supplies in cold storage, while at the same time pork exports to China, in particular, were surging. The suit was filed in Superior Court in Washington, where a law allows a nonprofit group to sue on behalf of consumers without needing to show that they suffered direct harm.
“This fear mongering creates a revenue-generating feedback loop,” Food and Water Watch said in its lawsuit. “It stokes and exploits consumer panic — juicing demand and sales — and in turn, provides the company with a false justification to keep its slaughterhouses operating at full tilt, subjecting its workers to unsafe workplace health and safety conditions that have caused thousands of Smithfield workers to contract the virus.”
Smithfield defended its safety efforts while criticizing the consumer advocacy group. “The advocacy organizations who make these claims have a stated goal of dismantling the efforts of our hard-working employees, who take great pride in safely producing food products,” Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement.
The meatpacking industry was a flash point during the pandemic as thousands of workers fell ill, many of them fatally. Smithfield and other companies mounted an aggressive advertising campaign to highlight their worker safety efforts and to emphasize the industry’s important role in feeding the nation.
Despite these assertions, Food and Water Watch, which is represented in its lawsuit by Public Justice, a legal advocacy group, points out that Smithfield was cited by regulators for failing to adequately protect workers at its plants in California and South Dakota.
In her statement, Ms. Lombardo said, “Our health and safety measures, guided by medical and workplace safety expertise, have been comprehensive.”
What It's Like to Work in 115 Degree Weather in Phoenix
Phoenix is facing a double heat and housing crisis that is falling hardest on people who have to suffer the sun.
Workers trying to stay hydrated while setting building foundations on the outskirts of Phoenix on Thursday.Credit…
PHOENIX — As the sun rose on another day of record-breaking heat, Juan Gutierrez and his construction crew were already sweating through their long-sleeve shirts. It was 91 degrees, and workers in a subdivision called Desert Oasis were racing to nail together the wooden skeletons of $380,000 homes that had sold before they were even built.
“Your skin falls off, you have to cover up everything,” said Mr. Gutierrez, 22, who has been undocumented since he came to the United States as a 4-year-old. “It’s work you have to do. You have no choice.”
Across the West, housing markets and temperatures are both scorching hot. A punishing spring of drought, wildfires and record-shattering heat is amplifying questions about the habitability of the Southwest in a rapidly warming climate. But it has done little to slow the rapid growth of cities like Phoenix, where new arrivals are fueling a construction frenzy — as well as rising housing costs that are leaving many residents increasingly desperate to find a place they can afford to live.
The result: a double heat and housing crisis whose sweltering toll is falling hardest on people who have little choice but to suffer the sun and on those who can’t afford the housing boom powering the economy.
Construction workers and landscapers whose sweat is fueling the growth do not have the option of working from an air-conditioned office. Instead, they say they worry about passing out or dying on the job as 115-degree days come earlier and grow ever more common.
As housing costs rise, more people are ending up on the baking streets or being forced to make agonizing choices: Pay the rent or pay the summer utility bills? Rent an apartment with reliable air conditioning, or live in a cheaper trailer home that broils under the sun?
“Extreme heat has made the problems we have all the more evident,” said Melissa Guardaro, an assistant research professor at the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at Arizona State University.
Being homeless in an era of mega-heat waves is particularly deadly, as homeless people represented half of last year’s record 323 heat-related deaths across the Phoenix area. The homeless population has grown during the pandemic, and activists are now worried that an expiring eviction moratorium will mean others will lose their homes at the height of summer.
Heat is already suspected in 20 deaths this year in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, with the deadliest months to come.
As the temperature spiked to a record 118 degrees last Thursday and climbed throughout the week, the people sweating, working and struggling through dawn-to-dark heat said they were longing for some relief from all of it.
After starting work before dawn to escape some of the heat, Mr. Gutierrez and his colleagues on the construction crew climbed down from a roof in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise, Ariz., to catch their breath. They chugged a few bottles of electrolyte solution and sports drinks. Work is plentiful these days, but also brutal.
Home prices around Phoenix have risen by as much as 30 percent in the past year to a median of $390,000, and homes are selling faster than they did last year. Tech workers and others able to work remotely flocked to the Southwest during the pandemic, as did manufacturing jobs, creating a voracious appetite for housing.
“We have so many people who want a home in this community,” Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix said.
Mr. Gutierrez and his crew sometimes drive two hours to reach the new subdivisions creeping deeper into the desert. As the sun beat down, they put on gaiters and woven hats, but it barely helped.
One of the members of the crew had gotten dizzy and nearly tumbled from a roof the other afternoon. Not even a bush was left in the newly cleared desert where houses now bloomed, so they huddled for shade under the rafters of unfinished houses. The work paid $15 to $20 an hour.
“When it’s hard, you think about another job,” said Joaquin Robledo, 24, who like the others on the crew had immigrated from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. “But you can’t look for another job because you don’t have documents.”
Julio Terrazas, 47, and a dozen day laborers stood in the parking lot of a Home Depot on the east side of Phoenix, yelling “Work? Work?” as pickup trucks rolled past them.
Their daily routine of planting trees, spreading gravel and renovating houses can become unbearable in the heat of summer, Mr. Terrazas and other laborers said. Some bosses give them shade, cold water, sandwiches and generous rest breaks. Others force the laborers to drink from backyard faucets and yell if the men sit down for more than five minutes, they said.
But Mr. Terrazas said his summer utility bills ran $400, so he had to suffer through it. But he had a wish: If only he had applied for a part-time job at The Home Depot.
“I wish I was working inside with them,” he said.
José Castro ducked into a shady pocket park in downtown Phoenix where he has been sleeping and pulled out a cherished sheaf of papers: an application for a subsidized apartment for his family. He said he had spent hours waiting in the sun at a Phoenix homeless-services center to get the application.
Mr. Castro, 30, said his family had lost their two-bedroom apartment after the pandemic struck and he and his wife lost hours at their warehouse and office-cleaning jobs, sending them into a financial tailspin.
Rents in Phoenix rose about 8 percent during the pandemic, the most of any major city, according to the real estate site Zillow. Mr. Castro said he could no longer afford the $1,100 that landlords in his old neighborhood were demanding.
So his wife and children, now homeless, have been staying in a garage without air conditioning with her parents. He has been floating between relatives’ apartments, shelter beds and the street. He pleads with convenience-store clerks for cups of ice and gets free bottled water from homeless-outreach workers.
But cooling off is almost impossible. Volunteers armed with maps are set to hit the streets in Phoenix soon to check on people and guide them to cooling centers, but Mr. Castro said he knew nothing of the 89 air-conditioned cooling centers operating across the county. The borrowed flip phone he uses during the day was useless in trying to find online maps showing free water and heat-relief tents.
“I didn’t even know they had cooling centers,” Mr. Castro said.
Experts who have studied how heat affects Arizona’s most vulnerable people said the needs were only growing.
“We have this perfect storm happening here of an affordable housing crisis, high eviction rates, massive energy bill burdens, Covid,” said Stacey Champion, who is part of a new movement of heat activists urging governments to do more to plan and protect people.
Theresa Reyas, 49, parked her coolers on a downtown sidewalk, sat down and started selling. She had to make $85 that afternoon to pay for another day’s rent at the E Z Inn, where she has been staying since she left her husband.
Coke? Squirt? Water? she asked people walking by. The people working in air-conditioned office parks or relaxing beside their pools might not need $1 sodas, she reasoned. But in Phoenix’s hottest, least-shaded neighborhoods, they would sell.
“Every year it’s getting hotter and hotter,” she said. “You’ve got to go where the people are. You’ve got to go where it’s hot.”
As heat waves get fiercer and heat-trapping cities push ever outward, desert nights do not cool down like they once did. And air conditioning bills are pricier than ever. So as the sun set over the city of Mesa, John Nyre, 70, turned off the window unit in his trailer home and went to watch reruns of an ’80s mystery series with his friend Gloria Ellis.
Both worry about their power bills and try to run their air conditioners as little and low as they can. Ms. Ellis sets hers to 77 degrees. Mr. Nyre’s trailer is baking at 95 degrees some nights when he comes home.
People living in trailer homes face a heightened risk of dying indoors, and Mr. Nyre said one of his neighbors was found dead two summers ago. The friends spend time in cool grocery stores but said a nearby senior center where they once went to keep cool remains largely closed because of the pandemic.
“It’s not easy,” Ms. Ellis said. “There’s not much you can do.”
In the New Hong Kong, Booksellers Walk a Fine Line
Some independent shops flout the new limits on free expression. Others try to come to terms with them. For readers, they offer a sense of connection in a changed city.
HONG KONG — When Hong Kong public libraries pulled books about dissent from circulation last month, Pong Yat Ming made an offer to his customers: They could read some of the same books, free, at his store.
Mr. Pong, 47, founded the shop, Book Punch, in 2020, after Beijing imposed a national security law in response to the antigovernment protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. The law broadly defined acts of subversion and secession against China, making much political speech potentially illegal, and it threatened severe punishment, including life imprisonment, for offenders.
Mr. Pong said he had opened Book Punch precisely because he did not want the city to fall silent under the pressure, and because he felt it was important to build a more empathetic, tightknit community as the law cast its shadow over Hong Kong.
“The social movement has changed the way people read and the value they place on books,” he said. “I want to bring out that kind of energy, that desire for change through reading.” He added, “Books are powerful, like forceful punches responding to the social environment.”
The venture is a potential minefield. The security law has brought mass arrests, a rout of pro-democracy lawmakers, changes to school curriculums, a crackdown on the arts and rapidly growing limits on free expression. It has also forced booksellers to confront questions about how long they will survive and how much they might have to compromise. A lack of clarity about why certain books are suddenly off limits has complicated decisions about which titles to stock.
As they navigate the constraints of the sweeping law, many independent bookstores have strengthened their resolve to connect with their readers and crystallized their roles as vibrant community hubs. In interviews, booksellers said that more people had rushed to buy books and photo collections documenting the 2019 protests, driven by the fear that these records would one day disappear. Some customers, meanwhile, have simply turned to their neighborhood bookstores for a sense of connection.
At Hong Kong Reader, a hushed upstairs space in the bustling Mong Kok district where a regal, one-eyed cat reigns, visitors have created a “Lennon Wall,” leaving messages about their hopes for the city on colorful sticky notes in a narrow back corridor. At Book Punch, an airy loft in the working-class neighborhood of Sham Shui Po, customers gather for discussions about democracy in Hong Kong and elsewhere. At Mount Zero, a jewel-box-size bookstore in the Sheung Wan district, the owner hosts visits by politically controversial authors.
“There’s been a greater need for people to gather around the hearth and keep warm together,” said Sharon Chan, the owner of Mount Zero.
After the national security law passed, changes swept through the city’s public libraries. Dozens of titles “suspected of breaching” the law have been pulled from their collections in recent months, according to Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which oversees the libraries. They include the memoirs of pro-democracy activists and treatises on political self-determination in Hong Kong, local news outlets reported, citing publicly available library databases.
Among the withdrawn material is a 2014 book called “Three Giants of Civil Disobedience,” which outlines the philosophies of Gandhi, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Its author, Daniel Pang, a Christian theology scholar, said he had been dismayed to learn that it had disappeared from circulation.
“The only reason I could think of is because it contained recommendations from Benny Tai and Joshua Wong,” he said, referring to two well-known activists who have been charged under the national security law. Blurbs from them appear on the book’s back cover. “Or because of its subject matter: civil disobedience,” Mr. Pang added.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department did not respond to questions about specific publications, but it confirmed that 34 books and periodicals had been suspended as part of a review of books suspected of violating the national security law.
For some independent booksellers, the pulled titles sent a clear signal, even if the new standards for censorship remained obscure.
Daniel Lee, who has run Hong Kong Reader, a popular academic bookstore, for 15 years, said that when there were clear guideposts about which books were forbidden, such as their removal from libraries, he would most likely follow the government’s lead.
“We can’t completely uphold freedom of speech, because the law has changed,” he said. “To the greatest extent possible, we will try to run our bookstore without breaking the law. So if the government can explicitly say that there are problems with certain books, we will follow. It’s a compromise.”
Book Punch has taken a different tack, announcing online that it will lend customers copies of books and magazines that libraries are reviewing for potential national security violations.
“If you keep a lower profile, then you can operate for longer,” Mr. Pong said. “Book Punch and a few others have chosen to do more, and even if we are no longer able to do this one day, I do believe that there are some people to whom we could pass the baton.”
The authorities have not responded to Book Punch’s posts. But Mr. Pong said people he did not recognize had appeared at the shop’s closed-door screenings of politically sensitive documentaries and taken photos of the screen and the participants.
“Everybody has things they cannot accept,” said Mr. Pong, who is currently overseas (he said he would return in a few months). “To me, there’s no reason to stop me from screening documentaries. There’s no reason to ban me from selling books. If in the end, you arrest me, it doesn’t matter. I am ready to persist to the end.”
Mr. Pong’s shop, which continues to operate in his absence, reflects his grass-roots activism on issues like increased bicycle access and the rights of marginalized communities. Last November, it hosted Chan Kin-man, a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella Movement, who read aloud from his prison memoir to visually impaired readers there.
The store rewards book buyers with perks like garlic paste and fresh greens, delivered every morning from a wet market. Visually impaired masseuses offer massages by appointment. Yoga teachers, bands and theater groups rent out the space for practice.
“‘Liberating Hong Kong,’ so to speak, is not just about the political level,” Mr. Pong said, referring to a protest slogan that the government has said could be seditious. “If you care only about electoral rights, and not what one might call the right to read or increased access for everyone, this understanding of freedom and democracy is very one-sided.”
At the height of the 2019 protests, pro-democracy chants occasionally broke out outside Mount Zero, in Sheung Wan. Now, lowered voices vie with the soft strains of jazz. Artists sketch under the shade of a willow tree. Musicians stage impromptu outdoor performances. On hot, sticky days, Ms. Chan, the owner, treats customers to slices of watermelon or thick slabs of Cantonese-style French toast from the open-air diner next door.
“When the pain is so collective, the biggest challenge for us is how to maintain a healthy outlook, to keep finding books that our readers would want, to help them relax a bit,” she said. “I think they see this as a space where they can feel safe and find like-minded people.”
Mount Zero takes up only about 100 square feet. Books are stacked tidily in an order that only its shopkeepers can discern. Patrons climb up to an attic with wide windows, passing framed art prints, vintage posters and a pro-democracy newspaper hand-drawn by a local artist.
“I used to think my bookstore was very small,” Ms. Chan said. “But a reader once said to me that, compared to his home, it was very big. I’ve always remembered that.”
Over the front door, a message is spelled out in red, white and black tiles: “Ideas are bulletproof.” It’s a quote from the politically themed action movie “V for Vendetta” that was often found among antigovernment graffiti during the protests. Ms. Chan said the tiles mysteriously appeared one morning last summer.
“Whoever put it up must have made precise measurements,” she said. “I’ve left it up because there must be a reason some of our readers wanted to see it here.”
Ms. Chan has not shied away from politically sensitive subjects at her store. She hosts contentious authors, including Mr. Tai, who visited months before he was detained under the national security law. On this year’s anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, she gave discounts that corresponded to the date of the killings, June 4, 1989: 60, 40, 80 or 90 percent off purchases.
“They could try to ban us from doing certain things in public, but that will not stop us from doing so in private,” Ms. Chan said. “Justice is on my side, and I do not feel afraid.”
As for Mr. Lee of Hong Kong Reader, he said it was worth staying in the business for as long as possible. He cited a Hannah Arendt quote: “There are no dangerous thoughts. Thinking itself is dangerous.”
“As long as something called a ‘bookstore’ is allowed to exist,” he added, “we will continue selling books.”
What’s Next for Watches?
Both old-fashioned luxury and contemporary makers face challenges in a digital world. Here are some ways they might need to change.
In popular culture, the future is often portrayed as fast, sleek and high-tech — qualities not typically associated with the Swiss watch trade, which takes pride in making elegant analog devices using laborious, often centuries-old, techniques.
Nevertheless, many watchmakers are finally ready to greet the future. To explore what that might mean for them in the coming decade, The New York Times asked three experts — a specialist in consumer psychology, a retail futurist and the editor of a luxury watch publication — how buying and owning a fine timepiece will change, and the issues that will preoccupy watch consumers. Their answers have been edited and condensed.
Peter Noel Murray
Principal of a New York-based research and consulting practice specializing in emotion and behavior change.
How has the pandemic affected the consumer psyche?
The mind of the consumer has focused on uncertainty, vulnerability, the need for stability — that’s what’s driving all the conversations I’m having now.
People are asking themselves — largely driven by the pandemic, but compounded by the social unrest that’s going on — where are we headed? There are concerns about the economic future. People are reeling about what happens to jobs, local businesses. They are yearning for situations that are less disruptive and more predictive, so they can start to feel back in control of their lives.
From a strategic perspective, you’d better be talking about factors like authenticity and truth and timelessness — those kinds of constructs always have been an important part of the luxury mind-set, and never more than now.
How should brands be courting customers?
The customer experience is paramount. There needs to be an acknowledgment of how the consumer is feeling. It would be clueless to say, “This is over, let’s go out and party.” The strategy should be to adopt a tonality of understanding and comfort. Hard to explain, but you get the idea. It is more about tone than words.
What other product qualities are consumers interested in?
Design and features are important. But in this environment, investment value — in the sense of buying a product that is holding its value — is another important part. One of the lessons people talk about in my interviews is that they have a yearning to be responsible. We realize how uncertain the world is. All of this changes our mind-set about how secure we feel, where we shop and what we buy. It’s this business of making a responsible choice, as opposed to saying, “This is the latest color.”
Does that mean that desire for classic, vintage-inspired watches will continue at the expense of more avant-garde or contemporary styles?
Contemporary can still appeal as long as it’s positioned in the context of trust, authenticity and, often, timelessness. There needs to be an homage to basic values, because authenticity and truth are an antidote to uncertainty and chaos.
President of research and strategy at New York-based trend consultancy PSFK.
We know the pandemic accelerated the move to digital. What are some less-talked-about changes to retail that are here to stay?
Very relevant to a luxury context is the scheduling of one-on-one appointments — whether that’s a styling consultation or teaching you how to use a product. That can happen in a store, but could also happen online in people’s homes; we’re all on Zoom and FaceTime.
One of the big benefits is suddenly you have this very intimate experience with a customer who’s in their home and you can say, “Show me what’s in your closet.” A lot of retailers are using staff members in a store to do that. They have a product on hand and use the store as a backdrop, and they can begin to use information they have about a customer to make smarter recommendations, and use that experience to complete a purchase or draw them into the store.
At PSFK, you do a lot of research around next-gen omnichannel concepts in which customers have a seamless experience across different “channels,” like social media, phone and in a physical store. What’s the latest?
There’s this idea within the manufacturing space called “digital twins.” It’s a digital version [of a product] that sits online with all the data so if there are glitches or a part is breaking, you can proactively fix things or adjust it. We envision a future where every product has a digital twin that sits in a cloud. You own it and if the item changes hands, it just becomes another way to think about ownership.
Theoretically, it creates a relationship with a brand or a manufacturer so they have the ability to monitor performance. If they notice there’s an issue with a watch — say, it’s losing time — they can proactively say, “Let’s get you set up for a repair appointment at a dealer nearby. We can order the necessary part and prevent you from being without a functioning timepiece for a period of time.” Fixing that problem early on, being proactive about it, is another way to add value to that customer relationship.
How far out is that kind of service?
The technology is in use at some level on a larger scale, in the manufacturing space, where you have these big industrial machines and all these different parts are working in concert with one another and there’s a centralized sensor that’s able to capture all that information and translate it back to A.I. or a piece of machine learning that’s able to check for anomalies.
Having a sensor small enough to fit inside something like a watch and then having some sort of platform to facilitate that, I guess I could envision that happening within the next 15 to 20 years.
What other changes are you seeing?
One of the other interesting things we’ve been paying attention to is luxury as an investment class, or products as asset classes. More nascent are these new platforms that enable incremental ownership in luxury items.
One is called Otis, started by Michael Karnjanaprakorn, who founded [the online learning community] Skillshare. As a company, Otis purchases things like artworks or crazy sneakers, and you, as an individual, can buy shares in those items. It’s the same way the stock market works: Assets either grow in value or decline in value.
Why would someone want to buy a share of a watch?
On the most basic level, people are investing in this stuff because they think it’s going to accrue value and it ties into their passions and interests. If you are a passionate or aspirational fan of watches, yet you can’t afford to buy a Patek Philippe Nautilus, there’s this idea that your knowledge — in the same way someone might be knowledgeable about the stock market — could benefit you financially. It registers you in this community as well. You get to wear the watch once a year or something like that. Or you get access to insider content that’s being shared by the brand.
What do you make of things like digital-only luxury goods and nonfungible token, or NFT, watches?
The idea of the metaverse [shared virtual space] has come to the fore because of the Fortnites and Roblox of the world, where people gather not only to game but to attend Lil Nas X concerts and socialize.
Companies are now creating versions of a product that exist as both physical and digital. Imagine you love Gucci, but you’re 14 — you can’t buy the handbag. But you can buy it for your digital avatar, where you’re spending four hours a day hanging out with your friends. As a way to build affinity and aspirational quality in a consumer, that’s pretty interesting.
Editor in chief of WorldTempus, a Geneva-based watch publication.
The Swiss watch industry has been painfully slow to embrace online. Is that still the case?
Prepandemic, a lot of brands were married to the idea that online is incompatible with the values of luxury watchmaking. “We’re not going to expose ourselves online because you’re not able to fully experience this piece of mechanical beauty” — that’s a philosophy that’s more suitable for an artisanal watchmaker that’s happy and willing to remain small. If you’re interested in your customers, in doing business, you can’t not have a digital presence.
What’s your boldest prediction for the industry in the coming decade?
All the trend analyses I’ve come across point toward greater polarization and narrowing in the market, which basically means that the brands that are already strong will continue to strengthen and that higher-priced watches will become a larger proportion of sales — since consumers tend to shy away from adventurous purchasing in uncertain times, and demand at the very top end of the market is pretty inelastic because of the economic insulation enjoyed by the ultrawealthy.
I do, however, entertain some bold hopes. From a consumer-facing standpoint, I believe that the level of awareness, knowledge and appreciation of watches will increase, because of the ongoing effects of media digitalization and the rise of a consumer audience that has access to more information than ever.
Do you consider any watchmakers to be forward-thinking?
An interesting example is Jacob & Co. Jacob Arabo stepped back from running the company day to day and his son, Benjamin, stepped in. He’s 28 or something insanely young. Benjamin was not always in the family business. He was carving his own career in the tech sphere, but he also consulted for Jacob & Co. As a result, they were one of the first brands to do that intensive online customer outreach that took other brands a lot longer to get started on. What really comes into play is how they’re speaking to the younger generation. Jacob & Co. is far and away the most active luxury watch brand on TikTok.
Do you think the debate around the value of beauty (Swiss watchmaking) vs. utility (Apple Watch) has shifted? How do you see these categories coexisting?
This is a false dichotomy. We should not be making consumers choose between pleasure and convenience.
Why do we think that a utilitarian object cannot simultaneously be beautiful? Montblanc had the right idea some years ago, when they debuted their e-Strap, an electronic module that could be fitted on to a mechanical watch. Never make people choose between A, B, C or D when the best answer is really “All of the above.”
Control of New York’s Stages Remains in White Hands, a Study Finds
The Asian American Performers Action Coalition is hoping for a season of change when theaters reopen.
As New York’s theaters prepare to reopen following the twin crises of a pandemic and rising discontent over racial inequity, a new study which found that both power and money in the theater world have been disproportionately controlled by white people is calling for “a fundamental paradigm shift.”
The study, by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, found that at the 18 major nonprofit theaters examined by the group, 100 percent of artistic directors were white, as were 88 percent of board members. On Broadway, 94 percent of producers were white, as were 100 percent of general managers.
The study offers a direct challenge, not only to theater leaders, but also to those who fund the institutions, saying, “it remains to be seen whether or not the multitude of antiracist solidarity statements and pledges to diversity will result in real action and systemic change.”
“Our expanded leadership stats confirm that almost every gatekeeper, employer and decision maker in the NYC theater industry is white,” the coalition declares in a letter introducing the study.
They examined the 2018-19 New York theater season — the last full season before the pandemic — looking at every Broadway show, as well as the work of the nonprofits.
The coalition called particular attention to a dearth of shows about Asian Americans. “Even as the industry has made small gains in diversity in recent years, particularly at the nonprofits, our work at AAPAC has shown that Asian-focused narratives remain consistently minimized and overlooked,” the report says.
Among the other findings:
Using publicly available tax forms, the coalition calculated the public and private contributions to nonprofit theaters, and said that $150 million went to the 18 big nonprofits in the city that it referred to as “predominantly white institutions,” compared with $12.6 million to 28 theaters of color.
At the theaters studied, 59 percent of roles went to white actors, compared to 29 percent for Black actors, 6 percent for Asian American actors and 5 percent for Latinos (the coalition uses the gender-neutral term Latinx).
Creative teams were less diverse, with 81 percent of writers being white, along with 81 percent of directors and 77 percent of designers.
The report gave grades to individual theaters, and declared the Public Theater to be the most diverse, and the Irish Repertory Theater to be least diverse.
The intense focus nationally on diversity issues has prompted an increase in research about race, gender and disability within the theater industry. A coalition of groups doing such research, called Counting Together, formed in 2019, and this month introduced the CountingTogether.org website, hosted by the Dramatists Guild and the American Theater Wing, to make the research more readily available.
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