Row over Toronto Film Festival boycott

By Jessica Elgot, September 4, 2009
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Jane Fonda is one of the 50 artists to have signed the protest letter

Jane Fonda is one of the 50 artists to have signed the protest letter

More than 50 film directors, artists and writers, including Jane Fonda, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, David Byrne and Danny Glover have signed a letter which protests against a celebration of Tel Aviv at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The festival, which is in its 34th year, is launching a “City to City” programme this year, which will focus on Tel Aviv and feature 10 Israeli films.

The artists say the spotlight on Tel Aviv would romanticise the country which they call an “apartheid state”, and claim the festival had fallen prey to the Israeli “propaganda machine”.

The public letter states: “As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv.”

Most of the filmmakers in the City to City programme are as critical of the Israeli government as anybody.

Shmulik Maoz

“We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.”

Festival co-director Cameron Bailey insisted the choice was made to focus on Tel Aviv independent of any Israeli influence.

He wrote: “We recognize that Tel Aviv is not a simple choice and that the city remains contested ground.”

But Tel Aviv is not considered occupied territory and was built in 1909 on uninhabited sand dunes.)

Israeli director Shmulik Maoz whose film Lebanon will be screened at the festival said: “Film festivals should be above discussions about boycotts and protests.”

“Trying to shut people’s mouths is not smart. In any event, most of the filmmakers in the City to City programme are as critical of the Israeli government as anybody.”

The letter follows Canadian director John Grayson’s decision to boycott the festival by removing his film Covered, which focuses on anti-gay violence surrounding the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, from the festival line-up.

Canadian film producer Robert Lantos accused Mr Grayson of “mind-boggling hypocrisy”.

He said: “Israel is the only state in the Middle East where films are made freely and without censorship of any sort and the only country in the region where a gay positive film like Mr Greyson’s could be produced and freely shown.”

Last updated: 3:17pm, September 7 2009