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Dec. 18, 2012 at 2:14 PM
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NBC reporter freed from captivity in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- NBC News's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, two colleagues and a security guard were released after five days of captivity in Syria, NBC said Tuesday.

In a statement, NBC said Engel and his crew, missing since entering Syria from Turkey Thursday, were "freed from captors in Syria after a firefight at a checkpoint on Monday, five days after they were taken prisoner."

The NBC News crew was unharmed in the firefight. They had been in Syria until Tuesday, when they worked their way to the Turkish border and entered Turkey, the network said. The former captives were to be evaluated and debriefed, but had relayed that all were in good health.

"We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country," NBC said.

Turkey's NTV news channel said Aziz Akyavas, a Turkish correspondent with NBC, was taken along with Engel.

Akyavas told NTV he and his colleague were blindfolded and handcuffed as they were held in several locations during the time of their captivity.

While not physically abused, Akyavas said the captives were humiliated, subjected to mock executions and denied food. He said the captors asked them to speak to a camera, identify themselves and ask their governments to rescue them, and were told the video would be posted on YouTube.

The others taken with Engel and Akyavas were not identified, nor were their captors.

Concerning their kidnappers, NBC only said the captors "were not believed to be loyal to [President Bashar Assad's] regime."

Two captors were killed in the skirmish at the checkpoint run by the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, an Islamic Salafist group that operates throughout Syria, with its greatest presence in Idlib, the network said.

Engel, an award-winning journalist, has reported about the Middle East extensively. He was reporting on the war from inside Syria when he was captured.

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, when demonstrators marched to show support for the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa and to demand Assad's resignation.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated in November more than 40,000 people had died in the fighting.

Discovery cancels reality show 'American Guns'

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Discovery Channel says it has not renewed its reality show "American Guns" and won't air reruns from its past two seasons.

The series wrapped its sophomore season Sept. 5. The ratings hit is about a family who runs a successful gun shop in Colorado.

"'American Guns' concluded earlier this year," the network said in a statement. "Discovery Channel chose not to renew the series and has no plans to air repeats of the show."

E! News said the network did not say whether the decision to cancel the show was directly connected to last week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Women Film Critics Circle praises 'Zero Dark Thirty,' 'Royal Affair'

NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- America's Women Film Critics Circle awarded several prizes to "Zero Dark Thirty," a drama about the female CIA agent who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Jessica Chastain as the determined agent, the film Monday was named 2012's Best Movie By a Woman. It also won awards for Best Female Images and Best Equality of the Sexes.

The critics declared "A Royal Affair" the year's Best Movie About Women, while the Best Woman Storyteller prize went to Julie Delpy for her "Two Days in New York" screenplay.

Anne Hathaway scored the Best Actress mantle for her work in "Les Miserables" and Daniel Day-Lewis the Best Actor honor for his performance in "Lincoln," which additionally earned the accolade for Best Male Images in a Movie.

Recognized as Best Young Actress was Quvenzhane Wallis of "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Maggie Smith earned the Best Comedic Actress accolade for "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." She also shared the Women's Work: Best Ensemble honor with her co-stars Judi Dench, Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie.

Director Nadine Labaki's "Where Do We Go Now" was touted as the Best Foreign Film By or About Women and the HBO movie "Hemingway and Gellhorn" was named Best Theatrically Unreleased Movie By or About Women.

"Killer Joe" and "Think Like a Man" tied for the distinction of Worst Female Images of Women in a Movie.

"Killer Joe" took the title for Worst Male Images, too, and "Brave" the award for Best Animated Females.

Sharing the Best Family Film prize are "Life of Pi" and "Rise of the Guardians."

The critics group honored Barbra Streisand with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and Sally Field with its Acting and Activism Award.

The Adrienne Shelly Award for a film that most passionately opposes violence against women was shared by "Compliance" and "The Invisible War."

The Josephine Baker Award for best expressing the woman of color experience in America went to director Ava DuVernay's "Middle of Nowhere" and the Karen Morley Award for best exemplifying a woman's place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity went to "A Royal Affair."

'Django' premiere canceled in wake of school shooting

NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The Weinstein Co. says it has canceled its Los Angeles premiere of Quentin Tarantino's blood-soaked period picture "Django Unchained."

The studio said the decision was made out of respect for the victims of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children, six adults and the shooter dead.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and in this time of national mourning we have decided to forgo our scheduled event," a representative for The Weinstein Co. told USA Today Monday.

"However, we will be holding a private screening for the cast and crew and their friends and families."

Set in the American South in the 19th century, the film stars Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Walton Goggins, Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio. The Los Angeles premiere was to take place Tuesday.

The movie is to open in theaters nationwide Dec. 25.

Tarantino's other movies include "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill" and "Inglourious Basterds."

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