Film festival pulls screening after Odeon says no to a women-only audience


The organisers of a festival of Israeli movies has pulled the screening of a film by a Charedi director after the Odeon cinema group said it would not bar men from the audience

Gift of Fire was due to be show at the Odeon in Swiss Cottage as part of Seret 2015 festival.

Director Rechy Elias had demanded that it be shown only to women for religious reasons.

The organisers believed that the Odeon Swiss Cottage had agreed to the ban and the screening was listed in the festival’s programme as women only.

But the Odeon group said earlier this week that it would not allow the restriction .

A spokesperson said: “We do not, and will not, restrict entry to any film based on gender. We only restrict entry to our screenings based on age – as laid out in legislation around BBFC ratings."

In response, the co-founders of the festival, Odelia Haroush, Anat Koren and Patty Hochmann released a joint statement on Friday, saying they were withdrawing the film.

They said: “We could not accommodate Mrs Elias’s religious requirements and enable the cinema to maintain its policy not to restrict entry to any film based on gender.

“The film contains women dancing and singing, and the Charedi community, and indeed many religious Jews, do not feel that men should be watching this.

“We respect the position of the filmmaker and the cinema alike, but have decided at this time we need to honour both parties and the only way to do so is to cancel the screening at Odeon Swiss Cottage.”

They added: “We thank Odeon Swiss Cottage for their continued support of the festival and are pleased that other fantastic films from the festival will be hosted there.”

The film is still expected to be screened at JW3 , the London Jewish community centre, to a female-only audience.

The ban on men had attracted complaints from some festival-goers

David Lass said he had contacted JW3 to object about being denied a chance to see the film.

He said: “The festival said they were a private charity in the UK, and were entitled to hold private screenings for women only to see special films during their annual festival.

“However since all the cinema venues involved in the festival programme are open to the general public, I believe that this policy of excluding male film-goers from all screenings would be quite unjustified under UK equality laws.

“I asked them if they would offer a male-only screening giving men the chance and they declined.”

JW3 chief executive, Raymond Simonson defended the ban.

He said: “Whilst it is unusual for us to have a women only screening in the JW3 Cinema, it is very common for all manner of women’s only events across the entire Jewish community –as well as in the wider non-Jewish world, including in arts venues, community centres etc – and this is generally accepted.

"Gift of Fire is a rare film in that it was made by a female director from the Haredi community, and has some Charedi women acting in it.

"The director, Rechy Elias, made it with the explicit intention of it only being show to female audiences. Without that condition, she would never have made the film as she would not have been able to express herself artistically in the same way, and some of the female actors would not have agreed to act in it.

"Whilst that may be very challenging to many of us, we are proud to be able to provide a platform for a female film director from the Charedi community to be able to express herself artistically, as well as a safe environment for Jewish women from across the entire spectrum of the community to see this extraordinary film."

It is the first time the film has been viewed outside Israel or in a cinema. It has previously been shown in community centres for women-only audiences.

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