Filmmakers protest uncritical view of Tel Aviv at Toronto film festival

By Tahel Frosh

Several Canadian filmmakers plan to withdraw their movies from next month’s Toronto International Film Festival to protest a weeklong cinematic homage to Tel Aviv.

They claim that the screenings will show Israel in a positive light instead of creating a critical forum in which to discuss the occupation.

The Tel Aviv-centric week launches the Toronto Festival’s new City to City event and is intended to celebrate Tel Aviv’s centennial.

According to the protesting artists, including culture critic Naomi Klein and director John Greyson, the problem is not the official participation of Israeli films at the festival but the character of the forum in which they will be screened.

They refer to an interview given last year by the Israeli consul in Toronto, Amir Gissin, to the Canadian Jewish News, in which he said that Israel’s image would be improved by participating in the festival.

Among the films to be shown are “Kirot” (“Walls”) by Danny Lerner, “Phobidilia” by Yoav and Doron Paz, “Bena” by Niv Klainer, “Jaffa” by Keren Yedaya, “The Bubble” by Eytan Fox, “A History of Israeli Cinema, Part I and II,” by Raphael Nadjari, “Life According to Agfa” by Assi Dayan, “Big Eyes” by Uri Zohar, and “Big Dig,” a 40-year-old film by Ephraim Kishon.

In a letter sent to the Toronto festival administration, Greyson wrote that the protest was not against Israeli films or filmmakers chosen for the festival.

He expressed admiration for film work by Israelis shown at previous festivals and said that he would attend Israeli films in the future.

Rather, he wrote, his protest was about the “spotlight” itself, the business-as-usual atmosphere advanced by the choice of Tel Aviv as a young, dynamic metropolis, in a celebration free of confrontation with less pleasant parts of Israel, such as what he termed the “brutal occupation.”

Greyson questioned whether an uncritical celebration at this time might be compared to having held such affairs in 1991 in South Africa, or in 1963 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Israeli director Udi Aloni is supporting the Canadian protest and is calling on Israeli artists to take the same steps.

In a telephone interview from New York, Aloni told Haaretz that he had talked to the festival curator to try to convince him not to hold an event in a format so uncritical of Israel.

Not Foreign Ministry cadets

According to Aloni, Israeli artists need to rethink their participation in the festival.

“Wherever they appear they must decide if they are representatives of the Foreign Ministry or of an uncompromising opposition to occupation and racism in Israel,” he said. “Israeli directors don’t have to be defensive and ask ‘Why are they attacking us?’ but say to the Canadian directors: ‘We’re with you on this. We don’t represent [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman; we represent the opposition.’ There are only two options. It’s no longer possible to shoot and cry.”

In a letter addressed to Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky, makers of “The Bubble,” Aloni asked them: “Are Israeli artists Lieberman’s new foreign service cadets?”

Gal Uchovsky said he preferred not to respond until he sees the letter in its entirety.

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