Picturehouse drops Israeli film festival

Seret Film Festival launches appeal for funds after being targeted by anti-Israel cultural boycotters


The Picturehouse cinema in Crouch End (Photo: Jewish Chronicle)

Picturehouse cinemas have pulled out of hosting an Israeli film festival and organisers are appealing for financial support in the face of further boycotts and cancellations.

In its thirteenth year, Seret Film Festival aims to showcase Israeli life through film and TV and says it is a “non-political, non-religious charity”.

Now its UK organisers say partner cinemas have pulled out and others are facing threats of boycotts as protesters have demanded the festival be cancelled.

“Long-standing partners are receiving threats from anti-Israel entities, coercing them to withdraw their support under the threat of ongoing demonstrations and boycotts,” said the organisers, launching a crowd-funder to support the festival. 

Previous Seret screenings in the UK have been held at Picturehouse Hackney, Everyman Belsize Park, Everyman Maida Vale, Phoenix East Finchley, the Brighton Komedia Picturehouse, the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, Edinburgh Cameo Picturehouse and the JW3.

Festival co-founder and CEO, Odelia Haroush, said Picturehouse cinemas have pulled out of hosting the festival this year. Previous directors of Picturehouse, Israeli brothers Moshe and Israel Greidinger, were firm supporters of Seret according to Haroush, but after their departure from the cinema chain last year, the Israeli festival has been dropped.

Haroush said: “We were very concerned that some of the cinemas didn’t want to work with us at all.”

The charity wants to ensure the “continuation and success” of Seret in light of the anti-Israel protests.

Supporters are encouraged to donate to the campaign, which will help to fund alternative screening spaces and “top-tier security measures.”

Pledges between £45 and £800 come with various rewards, such as your name on a screen, a premier ticket and a VIP party.

Organisers said: “The cancellation of a film festival isn't just a loss of entertainment – it's a suppression of cultural exchange and a setback for pluralism and diversity. We refuse to let these voices be silenced.”

The largest Israeli film festival in the world, Seret operates in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Argentina, Chile and the UK.

In February a Barcelona cinema cancelled all Seret screenings two days before the festival. Haroush said that the cinema owner had received threats to his business and family.

"In 24 hours, we had to find different locations and venues. It was very successful in the end, we sold out.

 “In Amsterdam we faced even more obstacles, several cinemas didn’t want to work with us; these are cinemas who have worked with us since we were founded. We've had to hire venues and screen in spaces that were not cinemas.”

In the Netherlands, Haroush recalled, “somebody came with a Palestinian flag into the cinema and when the film started, he stood up with his flag and started to shout [...] one of the customers in the audience was an Israeli from Be’eri and he was very shaken.”

“Because of the war, some cinemas decided that they did not want to work with us and be associated with Israel. We had to find different locations and some of them [the cinemas] haven’t wanted to advertise or share ticket sales. We've had to hire the venues and have organised added security.”

“A lot of our donors and supporters are Jewish or Israeli and most of their budget has gone to Israel to support organisations connected to the war so they couldn’t support us as much as they have in previous years,” Haroush added.

“It is more important than ever to show Israeli culture through film,” said Haroush.

This is not the first time the festival has been threatened by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). In 2019, calls to boycott the festival were led by filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.

Threats to Seret festival come as Hackney’s Rio cinema has been put under investigation by the Charity Commission after the cinema’s decision to cancel its yearly screening of the Eurovision Song Contest over Israel’s participation in the competition.

The Charity Commission opened a “regulatory compliance case into the charity”.

Picturehouse has been contacted for comment.

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