95 SHAW ST
TORONTO CANADA M6J 2W3
August 27, 2009
Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey, Noah Cowan
Toronto International Film Festival
2 Carlton St., 13th floor
Toronto Canada M5B 1J3
Dear Piers, Cameron, Noah:
I've come to a very difficult decision -- I'm withdrawing my film Covered
from TIFF, in protest against your inaugural City-to-City Spotlight on Tel
In the Canadian Jewish News, Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin described
how this Spotlight is the culmination of his year-long Brand Israel
campaign, which includes bus/radio/TV ads, the ROM's notorious Dead Sea
Scrolls exhibit, and "a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto
International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian
entertainment luminaries on hand." Gissen said Toronto was chosen as a
test-city for Brand Israel by Israel's Foreign Ministry, and thanked
Astral, MIJO and Canwest for donating the million-dollar budget. (Astral is
of course a long-time TIFF sponsor, and Canwest owners' Asper Foundation
donated $500,000 to TIFF). "We've got a real product to sell to
Canadians... The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide
launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said."
This past year has also seen: the devastating Gaza massacre of eight months
ago, resulting in over 1000 civilian deaths; the election of a Prime
Minister accused of war crimes; the aggressive extension of illegal Israeli
settlements on Palestinian lands; the accelerated destruction of
Palestinian homes and orchards; the viral growth of the totalitarian security
wall, and the further enshrining of the check-point system. Such state policies
have led diverse figures such as John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Bishop Desmond
Tutu to characterize this 'brand' as apartheid.
Your TIFF program book may describe Tel Aviv as a "vibrant young city... of
beaches, cafes and cultural ferment... that celebrates its diversity," but
it's also been called "a kind of alter-Gaza, the smiling face of Israeli
apartheid" (Naomi Klein) and "the only city in the west without Arab
residents" (Tel Aviv filmmaker Udi Aloni).
To my mind, this isn't the right year to celebrate Brand Israel, or to
demonstrate an ostrich-like indifference to the realities (cinematic and
otherwise) of the region, or to pointedly ignore the international economic
boycott campaign against Israel. Launched by Palestinian NGO's in 2005,
and since joined by thousands inside and outside Israel, the campaign is
seen as the last hope for forcing Israel to comply with international law.
By ignoring this boycott, TIFF has emphatically taken sides -- and in the
process, forced every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the
occupation to cross a type of picket line.
Let's be clear: my protest isn't against the films or filmmakers you've
chosen. I've seen brilliant works of Israeli and Palestinian cinema at past
TIFFs, and will again in coming years. My protest is against the Spotlight
itself, and the smug business-as-usual aura it promotes of a "vibrant
metropolis [and] dynamic young city... commemorating its centennial",
seemingly untroubled by other anniversaries, such as the 42nd anniversary
of the occupation. Isn't such an uncritical celebration of Tel Aviv right
now akin to celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963, California grapes in
1969, Chilean wines in 1973, Nestles infant formula in 1984, or South
African fruit in 1991?
You're probably groaning right now -- "inflammatory rhetoric!" -- but I
mention these boycott campaigns because they were specific and strategic to
their historic moments, and certainly complex. Like these others, the
Israel boycott has been the subject of much debate, with many of us
struggling with difficult questions of censorship, constructive engagement
and free speech. In our meeting, for instance, you said you supported
economic boycotts like South Africa's, but not cultural boycotts. Three
points: South Africa was also a cultural boycott (asking singers not to
play Sun City); culture is one of Canada's (and Israel's) largest economic
sectors (this spotlight is funded by a Canadian Ministry of Industry
tourism grant, after all); and the Israel rebrand campaign explicitly
targets culture as a priority sector.
Many will still say a boycott prevents much needed dialogue between
possible allies. That's why, like Chile, like Nestles, the strategic and
specific nature of each case needs to be considered. For instance, I'm
helping organize a screening in September for the Toronto Palestinian Film
Festival, co-sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Inside
Out Festival. It's a doc that profiles Ezra Nawi, the queer Israeli
activist jailed for blocking army bulldozers from destroying Palestinian
homes. Technically, the film probably qualifies as meeting the technical
criteria of boycott -- not because it was directed by an Israeli filmmaker,
but because it received Israeli state funding. Yet all concerned have
decided that this film should be seen by Toronto audiences, especially Jews
and Palestinians -- a strategic, specific choice, and one that has
triggered many productive discussions.
I'm sorry I can't feel the same way about your Tel Aviv spotlight. Despite
this past month of emails and meetings, many questions remain for me about
its origins, its funding, its programming, its sponsors. You say it was
initiated in November 2008... but then why would Gissen seem to be claiming
it as part of his campaign four months earlier? You've told me that TIFF
isn't officially a part of Brand Israel -- okay -- but why haven't you
clarified this publicly? Why are only Jewish Israeli filmmakers included?
Why are there no voices from the refugee camps and Gaza (or Toronto for
that matter), where Tel Aviv's displaced Palestinians now live? Why only
big budget Israeli state-funded features -- why not a program of
shorts/docs/indie works by underground Israeli and Palestinian artists? Why
is TIFF accepting and/or encouraging the support of the Israeli government
and consulate, a direct flaunting of the boycott, with filmmaker plane
tickets, receptions, parties and evidently the Mayor of Tel Aviv opening
the spotlight? Why does this feel like a propaganda campaign?
This decision was very tough. For thirty years, TIFF has been my film
school and my community, an annual immersion in the best of world cinema.
You've helped rewrite the canon through your pioneering support of new
voices and difficult ideas, of avant-garde visions and global stories.
You've opened many doors and many minds, and made me think critically and
politically about cinema, about how film can speak out and make a
difference. In particular, you've been extraordinarily supportive of my own
work, often presenting the hometown premieres of my films to your legendary
audiences. You are three of the smartest, sharpest, skillful and most
thoughtful festival heads anywhere -- this isn't hyperbole, with all of you
I speak from two decades worth of friendship and deep respect -- which
makes this all the more inexplicable and troubling.
What eventually determined my decision to pull out was the subject of
Covered itself. It's a doc about the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, which
was cancelled due to brutal anti-gay violence. The film focuses on the
bravery of the organizers and their supporters, and equally, on the
ostriches, on those who remained silent, who refused to speak out: most
notoriously, the Sarajevo International Film Festival and the Canadian
Ambassador in Sarajevo. To stand in judgment of these ostriches before a
TIFF audience, but then say nothing about this Tel Aviv spotlight --
finally, I realized that that was a brand I couldn't stomach.
For the duration of TIFF, I've posted Covered at:www.vimeo.com/greyzone
Labels: Palestine, solidarity
Film maker condemns Toronto International Film Festival
Rebel Youth Saturday, August 29, 2009
What's hot this month
In Western Europe and America, parliament has become most odious to the revolutionary vanguard of the working class. That cannot be denie...
Rebel Youth is looking for hitchhiking stories. If you have a good hitchhiking tale, write us at Rebel Youth (at) ycl-ljc.ca Kieran Szuch...
COPYLEFT - REBEL YOUTH. Powered by Blogger.
About RY Magazine
Rebel Youth offers a weekly pan-Canadian Socialist perspectives on the youth and student movement across Canada and internationally. Produced by the Young Communist League of Canada, we publish in print edition three times a year. Our sister magazine in French is Jeunesse Militante Write us (Rebel Youth 290A Danforth Ave, Toroto ON., M4K 1N6) to get copy of either publication - $12 CND. for four issues. Read the media that fights back. Because there is no time like now to organize!
Donate to our magazine via our publisher, the Young Communist League of Canada
Read about our campaign to Fire Kevin O'Leary!
Donate to our magazine via our publisher, the Young Communist League of Canada
- ► 2013 (88)
- ► 2012 (244)
- ► 2011 (254)
- ► 2010 (327)
- For a Progressive Canadian Refugee Policy
- Film maker condemns Toronto International Film Fes...
- Wal-Mart Watch. Where do you buy your school suppl...
- Art by the Masses, guerilla art projects
- Caster Semenya and gender expression
- Facism in Lithuania
- Back off Walmart
- WFDY Statement Against anti-communism and all kind...
- Stop the HST!
- ▼ Aug 23 (9)
- ► 2008 (36)
- ► 2006 (31)