One of 2022’s biggest breakout hits no doubt will be CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH. Written, directed by and starring Cooper Raiff, the heartfelt Dramedy about a 22-year-old named Andrew who strikes an unlikely bond with a young mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). This all set of course in the world of the Bar Mitzvah circuit.
It was our honour to chat with Raiff about this Film, which took the Audience Award in the Dramatic category at Sundance earlier this year. It possesses a rare magic to it that so compassionately takes us into the world of these characters. You don’t forget a Film like CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH and its people.
We ask Raiff about the genesis of the Film and whether or not it is autobiographical.
Raiff: “It’s a very personal movie. None of it’s autobiographical, but all of it is. It’s based on feelings I’ve had, experiences I’ve had, people in my life. It’s always difficult taking things that are personal to you onto a screen. You’re not just trying to have this cathartic thing, you’re trying to communicate to an audience.”
“The genesis of it is that I wanted to make a Movie about a young mom of a disabled daughter. I started pitching those two characters to people and they were like, ‘That’s not a Movie. That’s like two Characters.’. Then I thought of this other character and thought of this idea to tell the story through the lens of the person I knew best in the world, this 22-year-old dummy. I needed a way for them to keep coming into contact with each other and then the Bar Mitzvah circuit idea came in.”.
We ask about what struggles Raiff faced getting something so personal to him to the screen, and also the process of getting Dakota Johnson to sign-on as Executive Producer, in addition to starring as Domino.
Raiff: “Her Producer met her first, Ro Donnelly. I pitched her those four elements, and I pitched her the title CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH, and she told Dakota about it. And we all met, the three of us the next day, and it was night time for Dakota, she was in Greece, about to film The Lost Daughter. And I pitched her this Character and I told her how much I love her as a Performer and how much I really wanted to collaborate with her.”
“A big struggle was that the character of Domino is kinda based on my mom. Lola‘s in a way based on my sister. My sister’s disabled. She’s not Autistic, it’s more severe. She has a condition called Holoprosencephaly where she can’t walk or talk and I really wanted to make a Movie about her. This is what I’m talking about. The struggle of something so personal. I was going to make this Movie about my actual sister and I realized she would’ve been a very terrible Actress. She would’ve looked into the camera the whole time. So what I wanted to communicate was that bond.”
“The best moments of the Movie are when Vanessa Burghardt who plays Lola – watching her audition tape, it just triggered something in me where I started crying so hard, because I knew immediately she was reading with her mom, like her mom was behind the camera. I don’t know why I knew, but I could tell she was frustrated at one point. She was frustrated with her mom. It made me laugh and want to cry and that bond is what I wanted to make the Movie about.”.
Vanessa Burghardt delivers a breakout performance here, in what is her Feature Film debut. Raiff tells us about tackling the topic of Disability in his Film.
Raiff: “Vanessa said that Lola’s a person before she’s a poster for Autism. Something I really care about is that it’s important to respect that we are different. But there’s this line in the Movie where Andrew asks Domino, ‘Is it hard?’ to Lola being Autistic, and she says, ‘Yeah, but not because of her’. That is a key thing with people with disabilities. It’s really harsh. But it’s not hard because of this Disability, it’s hard because of the world we’re living in makes it difficult. And it’s not accessible in many ways. People are idiots. I think it’s important to show that embracing it is really easy.”.
After raves on the Festival Circuit including Sundance, SXSW and more recently the Tribeca Film Festival, Raiff reflects on all the accolades.
Raiff: “It’s been surprising and so emotional and nice. Hearing you talk about it, it gives me chills and I really feel so happy to be talking to you about it.”.
We ask Raiff what’s next?
Raiff: “I’m shooting a Hockey Movie this Fall called THE TRASHERS, based on a True Story about this dad named Jimmy Galante (David Harbour), who gifts his 18-year-old son a Hockey Team, and his son becomes the President of the Team and the story ends with the dad in federal prison. It’s really personal to me and I can’t wait for people to see it!”.
See our Chat here:
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH arrives June 17, 2022 on Apple TV+.
(Photo/video credit: Apple TV+)
By far my favourite Movie of ’22 thus far. I saw CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH at Sundance where it won the Audience Award and haven’t forgotten about it one bit. Here’s the new Trailer!
Fresh out of college and without a clear life path going forward, 22-year-old Andrew is stuck back at home with his family in New Jersey. But if there’s one thing that belongs on his nonexistent résumé, it’s how to get a party started, which lands him the perfect job of motivational dancing at the bar and bat mitzvahs for his younger brother’s classmates. When Andrew befriends a local mom, Domino, and her daughter, Lola, he finally discovers a future he wants—even if it might not be his own. Cooper Raiff writes, directs, and stars alongside Dakota Johnson, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann, and newcomers Vanessa Burghardt and Evan Assante in this tale of unconventional love that brims with emotional honesty.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth” premieres Friday, June 17, 2022 on Apple TV+.
(Photo/video credit: Apple TV+)
Winners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival have been announced and NANNY wins top honours taking the U.S. Grand Jury Prize. The U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Documentary went to THE EXILES.
Audience Awards went to last-minute Festival addition NAVALNY, which centers on Russia’s jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny for U.S. Documentary. It also won the Festival Favourite Award.
Cooper Raiff‘s CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH took the U.S. Dramatic Award. The latter starring Raiff and Dakota Johnson, just sold for $15 million to Apple TV+.
Co-Canadian production FRAMING AGNES picked-up two awards, the Audience Award: NEXT and the NEXT Innovator Award.
Complete list of Winners:
GRAND JURY PRIZES
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Nikyatu Jusu for Nanny / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Nikyatu Jusu, Producers: Nikkia Moulterie, Daniela Taplin Lundberg) — Aisha is an undocumented nanny working for a privileged couple in New York City. As she prepares for the arrival of the son she left behind in Senegal, a violent supernatural presence invades her reality, threatening the American dream she is painstakingly piecing together. Cast: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams.
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Ben Klein and Violet Columbus for The Exiles / U.S.A. (Directors: Ben Klein, Violet Columbus, Producers: Maria Chiu, Ben Klein, Violet Columbus) — Documentarian Christine Choy tracks down three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, in order to find closure on an abandoned film she began shooting with Renee Tajima-Peña in 1989.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Alejandro Loayza Grisi for Utama / Bolivia/Uruguay/France (Director and Screenwriter: Alejandro Loayza Grisi, Producers: Santiago Loayza Grisi, Federico Moreira, Marcos Loayza, Jean-Baptiste Bailly-Maitre) — In the Bolivian highlands, an elderly Quechua couple has been living the same daily life for years. When an uncommon long drought threatens their entire way of life, Virginio and his wife Sisa face the dilemma of resisting or being defeated by the environment and time itself. Cast: Jose Calcina, Luisa Quispe, Santos Choque.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Shaunak Sen for All That Breathes / India, U.K. (Director and Producer: Shaunak Sen, Producers: Aman Mann, Teddy Leifer) — Against the darkening backdrop of Delhi’s apocalyptic air and escalating violence, two brothers devote their lives to protect one casualty of the turbulent times: the bird known as the Black Kite.
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was awarded to Navalny / U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Roher, Producers: Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Shane Boris) — Shot as the story unfolded, a fly-on-the-wall documentary thriller about anti-authoritarian Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Recovering in Berlin after nearly being poisoned to death with the nerve agent Novichok, Navalny makes shocking discoveries about his assassination attempt and bravely decides to return home – whatever the consequences.
The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was awarded to Cha Cha Real Smooth / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Cooper Raiff, Producers: Dakota Johnson, Ro Donnelly, Erik Feig, Jessica Switch, Cooper Raiff) — A directionless college graduate embarks on a relationship with a young mom and her teenage daughter while learning the boundaries of his new bar mitzvah party-starting gig. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was awarded to Girl Picture / Finland (Director: Alli Haapasalo, Screenwriters: Ilona Ahti, Daniela Hakulinen, Producers: Leila Lyytikäinen, Elina Pohjola) — Mimmi, Emma and Rönkkö are girls at the cusp of womanhood, trying to draw their own contours. In three consecutive Fridays two of them experience the earth moving effects of falling in love, while the third goes on a quest to find something she’s never experienced before: pleasure. Cast: Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, Linnea Leino.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was awarded to The Territory / Brazil/Denmark/United States (Director: Alex Pritz, Producers: Will N. Miller, Sigrid Dyekjær, Lizzie Gillett, Anonymous) — When a network of Brazilian farmers seizes a protected area of the Amazon rainforest, a young Indigenous leader and his mentor must fight back in defense of the land and an uncontacted group living deep within the forest.
The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was awarded to Framing Agnes / Canada, U.S.A. (Director: Chase Joynt, Producers: Samantha Curley, Shant Joshi, Chase Joynt) — After discovering case files from a 1950s gender clinic, a cast of transgender actors turn a talk show inside out to confront the legacy of a young trans woman forced to choose between honesty and access.
FESTIVAL FAVORITE AWARD
Selected by audience votes from the 84 features screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, the Festival Favorite Award was presented to Navalny / U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Roher, Producers: Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Shane Boris) — Shot as the story unfolded, a fly-on-the-wall documentary thriller about anti-authoritarian Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Recovering in Berlin after nearly being poisoned to death with the nerve agent Novichok, Navalny makes shocking discoveries about his assassination attempt and bravely decides to return home – whatever the consequences.
JURY AWARDS FOR DIRECTING, SCREENWRITING & EDITING
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Reid Davenport for I Didn’t See You There / U.S.A. (Director: Reid Davenport, Producer: Keith Wilson) — Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency.
The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Jamie Dack for Palm Trees and Power Lines / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jamie Dack, Screenwriter: Audrey Findlay, Producers: Leah Chen Baker, Jamie Dack) — Seventeen-year-old Lea spends her summer aimlessly tanning with her best friend, tiptoeing around her fragile mother, and getting stoned with a group of boys from school. This monotony is disrupted by an encounter with Tom, a man twice her age, who promises an alternative to Lea’s unsatisfying adolescent life. Cast: Lily McInerny, Jonathan Tucker, Gretchen Mol.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to Simon Lereng Wilmont for A House Made Of Splinters / Denmark (Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont, Producer: Monica Hellström) — In Eastern Ukraine, follow the daily life of children and staff in a special kind of home: an institution for children who have been removed from their homes while awaiting court custody decisions. Staff do their best to make the time children have there safe and supportive.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Maryna Er Gorbach for KLONDIKE / Ukraine/Turkey (Director and Screenwriter: Maryna Er Gorbach, Producers: Maryna Er Gorbach, Mehmet Bahadir Er, Sviatoslav BulakovskyI) — The story of a Ukrainian family living on the border of Russia – Ukraine during the start of war. Irka refuses to leave her house even as the village gets captured by armed forces. Shortly after they find themselves at the center of an air crash catastrophe on July 17, 2014. Cast: Oxana Cherkashyna, Sergey Shadrin, Oleg Scherbina, Oleg Shevchuk, Artur Aramyan, Evgenij Efremov.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to K.D. Dávila for Emergency / U.S.A. (Director: Carey Williams, Screenwriter: KD Davila, Producers: Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner, John Fischer) — Ready for a night of partying, a group of Black and Latino college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unusual emergency. Cast: RJ Cyler, Donald Watkins, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter.
The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput for Fire Of Love / U.S.A. (Director: Sara Dosa, Producers: Shane Boris, Ina Fichman, Sara Dosa) — Intrepid scientists and lovers Katia & Maurice Krafft died in a volcanic explosion doing the very thing that brought them together: unraveling the mysteries of volcanoes by capturing the most explosive imagery ever recorded. A doomed love triangle between Katia, Maurice and volcanoes, told through their archival footage.
SPECIAL JURY AWARDS
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Uncompromising Artistic Vision was presented to Bradley Rust Gray for blood / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Bradley Rust Gray, Producers: David Urrutia, Bradley Rust Gray, So Yong Kim, Elika Portnoy, Alex Orlovsky, Jonathon Komack Martin) — After the death of her husband, a young woman travels to Japan where she finds solace in an old friend. But when comforting turns to affection, she realizes she must give herself permission before she can fall in love again. Cast: Carla Juri, Takashi Ueno, Gustaf Skarsgård, Futaba Okazaki, Issey Ogata.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble Cast was presented to John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, London Covington, and Michael K Williams for 892 / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Abi Damaris Corbin, Screenwriter: Kwame Kwei-Armah, Producers: Ashley Levinson, Salman Al-Rashid, Sam Frohman, Kevin Turen, Mackenzie Fargo) — When Brian Brown-Easley’s disability check fails to materialize from Veterans Affairs, he finds himself on the brink of homelessness and breaking his daughter’s heart. No other options, he walks into a Wells Fargo Bank and says “I’ve got a bomb.“ Cast: John Boyega, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, Selenis Leyva.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change was presented to Aftershock / / U.S.A. (Directors and Producers: Paula Eiselt, Tonya Lewis Lee) — Following the preventable deaths of their partners due to childbirth complications, two bereaved fathers galvanize activists, birth-workers and physicians to reckon with one of the most pressing American crises of our time – the U.S. maternal health crisis.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to Descendant / U.S.A. (Director: Margaret Brown, Producers: Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin) — Clotilda, the last known ship carrying enslaved Africans to the United States, arrived in Alabama 40 years after African slave trading became a capital offense. It was promptly burned, and its existence denied. After a century shrouded in secrecy and speculation, descendants of the Clotilda’s survivors are reclaiming their story.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Documentary Craft was presented to The Territory / Brazil/Denmark/United States (Director: Alex Pritz, Producers: Will N. Miller, Sigrid Dyekjær, Lizzie Gillett, Anonymous) — When a network of Brazilian farmers seizes a protected area of the Amazon rainforest, a young Indigenous leader and his mentor must fight back in defense of the land and an uncontacted group living deep within the forest.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Excellence In Verité Filmmaking was presented to Midwives / Myanmar (Director: Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, Producers: Bob Moore, Ulla Lehman, Mila Aung-Thwin, Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing) — Two midwives work side-by-side in a makeshift clinic in Myanmar.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Innovative Spirit was presented for Leonor Will Never Die / Philippines (Director and Screenwriter: Martika Ramirez Escobar, Producers: Monster Jimenez, Mario Cornejo) — Fiction and reality blur when Leonor, a retired filmmaker, falls into a coma after a television lands on her head, compelling her to become the action hero of her unfinished screenplay. Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting was presented to Teresa Sánchez for Dos Estaciones / Mexico (Director and Screenwriter: Juan Pablo González, Screenwriters: Ana Isabel Fernández, Ilana Coleman, Producers: Jamie Gonçalves, Ilana Coleman, Bruna Haddad, Makena Buchanan) — In the bucolic hills of Mexico’s Jalisco highlands, iron-willed businesswoman Maria Garcia fights the impending collapse of her tequila factory. Cast: Teresa Sánchez, Tatín Vera, Rafaela Fuentes, Manuel García-Rulfo.
NEXT INNOVATOR AWARD PRESENTED BY ADOBE
The NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe was presented to Chase Joynt for Framing Agnes / Canada, U.S.A. (Director: Chase Joynt, Producers: Samantha Curley, Shant Joshi, Chase Joynt) — After discovering case files from a 1950s gender clinic, a cast of transgender actors turn a talk show inside out to confront the legacy of a young trans woman forced to choose between honesty and access.
SHORT FILM AWARDS PRESENTED BY XRM Media
Jury prizes for short filmmaking were awarded to:
The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to The Headhunter’s Daughter / Philippines (Director and Screenwriter: Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan, Producer: Hannah Schierbeek) — Leaving her family behind, Lynn traverses the harrowing roads of the Cordilleran highlands to try her luck in the city as a country singer. Cast: Ammin Acha-ur.
The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was awarded to Walter Thompson-Hernández for IF I GO WILL THEY MISS ME / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Walter Thompson-Hernández, Producer: Stuart McIntyre) — Lil’ Ant is obsessed with Pegasus, the Greek mythological character, since first learning about him at school in Watts, California. He begins to notice imaginary airplane people around his home, and yearns to fly with them. Cast: Anthony Harris Jr.
The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was awarded to Dania Bdeir for Warsha / France/Lebanon (Director and Screenwriter: Dania Bdeir, Producer: Coralie Dias) — A Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut volunteers to cover a shift on one of the most dangerous cranes, where he is able to find his freedom. Cast: Khansa.
The Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction was awarded to Samir Karahoda for Displaced / Kosovo (Director and Screenwriter: Samir Karahoda, Producer: Eroll Bilibani) — In postwar Kosovo, driven to keep their beloved sport table tennis alive, two local players wander from one obscure location to another carrying with them their club’s only possession: their tables.
The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was awarded to Joe Hsieh for Night Bus / Taiwan (Director and Screenwriter: Joe Hsieh, Producers: Wan Lin Lee, Joe Hsieh, Joe Chan) — On a late-night bus, a panicked scream shatters the night’s calm. A necklace is stolen, followed by a tragic and fatal road accident. The series of intriguing events that follows reveal love, hatred, and vengeance. Cast: Shu Fang Chen, Ming Hsiu Tsai, Yu Fang Lee, Shing Ming Wang, Shang Sing Guo, Pi Li Yeh.
A Short Film Special Jury Award: Ensemble Cast was presented to Zélia Duncan, Bruna Linzmeyer, Camila Rocha, Clarissa Ribeiro, and Lorre Motta for A wild patience has taken me here / Brazil (Director and Screenwriter: Érica Sarmet, Producers: Lívia Perez, Silvia Sobral, Érica Sarmet) — Tired of loneliness, a middle aged motorcyclist goes to a lesbian party for the first time. There she meets four young queers who share their home and affections. An encounter of generations, a tribute to those who brought us here. Cast: Zélia Duncan, Bruna Linzmeyer, Camila Rocha, Clarissa Ribeiro, Lorre Motta.
A Short Film Special Jury Award: Screenwriting was awarded to Sara Driver for Stranger Than Rotterdam with Sara Driver / United States (Directors: Lewie Kloster, Noah Kloster, Screenwriter: Sara Driver) — In 1982, the completion of Jim Jarmusch’s sophomore film, Stranger Than Paradise, hinged on producer Sara Driver’s willingness and ability to smuggle one of the world’s rarest and most controversial films across the Atlantic Ocean.
EARLIER SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS
The 2022 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to After Yang. The filmmakers received a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction went to Su Kim for Free Chol Soo Lee (U.S. Documentary Competition).
The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Fiction went to Amanda Marshall God’s Country (Premieres).
The Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Nonfiction went to Toby Shimin, and the Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction went to Dody Dorn.
The Sundance Institute | NHK Award went to Hasan Hadi for his film The President’s Cake.
By Mr. Will Wong
Writer/Director/Actor Cooper Raiff is at Sundance with his third Feature CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH, performing all three duties with equal dexterity. What he’s crafted here is sure to be one of the biggest breakout hits of the Festival. The Film is a sensitive, beautiful and touching coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old man named Andrew, still figuring life out after his girlfriend goes off to Barcelona.
When we meet Andrew, he moves back in with his mom (Leslie Mann), stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett) and little brother David (Evan Assante). He works a mundane job at Meat Stick, a Corndog shop, and after attending a Bar Mitzah with David, his charm makes him a hot commodity with all the local Jewish moms, and he soon finds himself with a hosting gig. He meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), who is on the Autism spectrum and finds himself striking a real connection with the two. Though she is further along in life than he, Andrew finds himself falling for Domino (and she for him too), although she is engaged to be married to Joseph (Raul Castillo). He finds himself at a bit of an impasse figuring it all out and where he fits, as life is about to pull him potentially in several different ways.
Raiff does a superb job in his acting, writing and direction, giving us a full portrait of Andrew. He is a brother, a confidante, a boyfriend and though he is frustrated at times how things aren’t going in his favour or that he hasn’t put it all together yet, we never lose sight of his good heart. He views life with an observant understanding. This is balanced perfectly by elements of humour, lightheartedness and undercurrent of bittersweet emotions which Andrew experiences. This level of care and detail doesn’t just stop at Andrew. We see those around him for who they are and are asked what they want.
This Ensemble of Actors gel together just perfectly. Johnson, whom also serves as Producer, builds upon her impressive catalog of work here as Domino, giving us a quiet chaos and her chemistry with Raiff is electric even if ultimately their relationship is on platonic terms. Mann is effective as Andrew‘s supportive mother, even if his disapproval of her partner Greg provides several of the Film’s most memorable jokes. Promising young talent Assante brings out a nurturing warmth in Andrew, winning us over. And of course, the casting of newcomer Burghardt really punctuates how they got it all right with this Film casting an Autistic actress – a really fantastic on-screen debut that educates as much as it entertains.
This empathic journey of growth proves to be a rewarding one that delivers the laughs as much it is good for the soul, and we’ll be thinking about for some time. Beyond ecstatic for the world to get to know this Film.
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH screens at Sundance as follows:
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