Men banned from London festival screening of Charedi film


A Charedi film-maker has banned men from the screening of a film showing as part of the London Israeli Film Festival.

Israeli director Rechy Elias’s drama Gift Of Fire is to be screened at the Odeon in Swiss Cottage and at JW3, the London Jewish community centre, to a “female only audience” despite complaints from men who have requested to see the film.

A spokesperson for the festival confirmed: “We have agreed to show the film based on the film-makers requests as a Charedi woman.

“We would love to show it to the world but we had to agree to women-only screenings at the request of the director.

“We feel it is a valid inclusion in the festival as the quality and standard of the film is very high and we have to honour her religious beliefs.”

The film is a romantic drama and stars only female actors to tell the story of a young religious woman fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and living under a false identity.

Festival-goer David Lass contacted the organisers and JW3 to complain at 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.”

The festival spokesperson said: “We have never been in this position before but the film is centred on women and the director wants it to be for women only.

“We have 25 films in the festival people can see any of them except this one if you are a man.”

JW3 chief executive, Raymond Simonson, replied to crticism of 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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