Toronto film festival hit by cultural boycott over Tel Aviv strand

Ken Loach, David Byrne and Jane Fonda among those condemning festival directors’ choice of Tel Aviv for inaugural City-to-City Spotlight event

* Ben Walters
*, Monday 7 September 2009 15.40 BST

The Toronto international film festival (TIFF) is under fire for selecting Tel Aviv as the subject of its inaugural City-to-City Spotlight strand. Ken Loach, Jane Fonda and David Byrne are among those who have signed a statement supporting Canadian film-maker John Greyson, who withdrew his short film Covered from TIFF after learning of the program.

In a letter to the festival, Greyson cited Israeli action in Gaza and the expansion of illegal settlements as reasons for his withdrawal, accusing the festival of: “an ostrich-like indifference to the realities (cinematic and otherwise) of the region”, and comparing the strand to one “celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963 … Chilean wines in 1973 … or South African fruit in 1991”. His objection, he wrote, was not due to the individual titles being shown, but the festival’s co-operation with the Israeli government’s Brand Israel marketing push.

TIFF’s co-director and programmer of the City-to-City Spotlight strand responded that the programme “was conceived and curated entirely independently”. He added that the TIFF lineup “also includes other important films from the region, including two films by Palestinian film-makers and others from Lebanon and Egypt”.

A letter of support for Greyson has been signed by Sophie Fiennes, Danny Glover, Naomi Klein, John Pilger, Wallace Shawn, Alice Walker and dozens of other writers, film-makers and academics.

The cultural boycott of Israel in protest at its policies towards Palestinian people has had numerous effects on the international film festival circuit. Loach pulled his latest film, Looking for Eric, from the Melbourne International film festival when he discovered it was part-sponsored by Israel. This year’s Edinburgh International film festival returned a £300 gift from the Israeli embassy following protests, and the Yes Men withdrew their feature The Yes Men Fix the World from the Jerusalem film festival in sympathy with the boycott.

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