Ontario cinema pulls out of Jewish film festival over ‘safety concerns’

Jewish organistion ‘outraged’ over the Playhouse Cinema’s choice to revoke the use of its venue for the annual festival


The Playhouse Cinema, an independent art house theatre in Hamilton, Ontario, sparked outrage on Tuesday for revoking the use of its venue for the upcoming Jewish Film Festival. (Photo: Playhouse Cinema via X)

An independent arthouse cinema in Ontario, Canada has revoked the use of its venue for a Jewish film festival due to “safety and security concerns,” according to a statement released on Tuesday.

“After receiving numerous security and safety related emails, phone calls, and social media messages, the Playhouse Cinema reached a difficult decision to postpone the Hamilton Jewish Federation's venue rental,” the statement by Hamilton Playhouse Cinema read.

“Our decision to postpone this venue rental was reached amid security and safety concerns at this particularly sensitive time. The Playhouse Cinema's mission is to be a welcome home to a variety of cultural groups, serving the Hamilton area through our film programming, and in offering our venue for rentals.”

The exact content and severity of the messages the Playhouse Cinema received is unclear, but a response by the Hamilton Jewish Federation responsible for organising the event indicates that the theatre received “a small number of complaints and threatening emails objecting to the fact that Israeli films are included in this year’s line-up.”

The Hamilton Jewish Federation rented the venue to screen six international films as part of its annual film festival scheduled for next month. On Tuesday the organisation issued a statement expressing outrage at the cinema’s decision to “backtrack on its commitment” to host the festival:

“The decision, coming just weeks before the scheduled event, is a lost opportunity to engage the Greater Hamilton community in a Jewish cultural event during the highest rise of antisemitism we've seen in recent history, and in the aftermath of the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust,” the Hamilton Jewish Federation’s statement said.

“In withdrawing its support of a Jewish film festival based on outrageous claims by a few individuals that any film produced in Israel is a form of ‘Zionist propaganda,’ the Playhouse Cinema is prioritizing the will of antisemites over an apolitical cultural festival that stands for artistic excellence and integrity.”

The statement added a brief description of the six films scheduled to be shown at the festival, which it says were produced in France, Poland and Israel and all serve to “represent the contemporary Jewish experience.”

“The Hamilton Jewish Federation rejects this attempt to sever Jewish from Israeli identity at a time when 50 per cent of the world’s Jewish population resides in Israel and to categorize Jews into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable.’”

The Hamilton Jewish Federation’s statement added that they are liaising with the national legal task force about recommended next steps in dealing with the situation. The festival will go ahead later in the spring in the organisation’s newly renovated facility.

Deborah Lyons, Canadian diplomat and former ambassador to Israel, commmented on the incident in a post on X, writing that the decision by Playhouse Cinema is “reminiscent of 1930s Germany when hateful anti-Jewish propaganda and exclusion of Jews in business and culture led to the slaughter of 6M European Jews as the majority of its citizens stayed silent.”

“Sadly, we’re seeing this again in Canada in 2024 as a lack of guardrails have allowed this hate to grow and become normalised,” Lyons wrote.

The Playhouse Cinema has not responded to the JC’s request for comments.

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