Monday, September 7, 2009

City to City/Tel Aviv protest clarified

June 23rd, the Toronto International Film Festival announced the launch of the City to City: Tel Aviv.

August 27th, John Greyson announced the withdrawal of his film COVERED from the festival, in protest against the City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv.

August 28th, the co-director of the festival, Cameron Bailey responded to the film's withdrawal.

August 31st, in a review of A HISTORY OF ISRAELI CINEMA, Michael Guillen provided an examination of the issue.

September 2nd, The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation was published. (As noted in the Toronto Star, it was endorsed by more than 60 people, including prominent members of the Jewish community such as author/activist Naomi Klein, Judy Rebick, and Israel filmmaker Udi Aloni.)

TOfilmfest contacted Cameron Bailey, co-director of the festival, because we felt that his statement —
"John writes that his protest isn’t against the films or filmmakers we have chosen, but against the spotlight itself. By that reasoning, no films programmed within this series would have met his approval, no matter what they contained."
— did not properly represent John Greyson's position.

We greatly appreciate that Mr. Bailey took the time to reply to us, and took our point, but he reiterated "that any films in a series called City to City: Tel Aviv would have met the same reaction." [Emphasis on any provided by Mr. Bailey.]

We disagreed. So, TOfilmfest contacted Mr. Greyson to finally clarify the matter.

Q: If 5 of the 10 films in the program were Palestinian/Arab film-makers, would you have had any objections to the City To City program on Tel Aviv?

A: "I hesitate to play the numbers/percentage game — but as I've said, there could have been a spotlight on Tel Aviv, featuring significant and diverse Palestinian voices, that truly captured the complexity of this very contested city."
Q: Do I have this correct? — if the festival canceled the City To City spotlight on Tel Aviv, and dispersed those same 10 films into other programs, you would have no objection to any of those films?

A: "Exactly — the point of the protest is the spotlight, not the films."

We hope that sharing this information will lead to a better understanding of the positions on either side of the issue — and we very much look forward to the "public forum that will bring leading filmmakers and thinkers from Tel Aviv and Toronto into debate" that was announced in the original press release for the program.


PS. here's a thoughtful article by Moti Rieber – rabbi, writer, activist...

PPS. He first thought the protest was 'destructive grandstanding', but now Roger Ebert has changed his mind, and now says that the festival "should never have agreed to be used like this."

PPPS. John Greyson has made his film COVERED available online.

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