Dozens of prominent filmmakers, writers, academics and activists have condemned the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to highlight the city of Tel Aviv during this year’s event.
With names like Howard Zinn, David Byrne, Jane Fonda, Naomi Klein and Danny Glover appearing on an open letter to the festival, the protest has drawn international media coverage. The letter argues that TIFF is complicit with “the Israeli propaganda machine” by screening the ten film program without any Palestinian perspective to provide balance.
“We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF,” the letter explains. “However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.”
This perspective is supported by an article last year in the Canadian Jewish News, in which Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin explained that his Brand Israel campaign — a million-dollar PR strategy designed to change Canadian perceptions of Israel — has plans for a major presence at the 2009 edition of TIFF. (CJN describe the TIFF plans, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, as part of Gissin’s “attack arsenal”.)
A few filmmakers have pulled their films out of the festival, none more vocal than John Greyson. The Torontonian’s decision to withdraw his short film Covered from TIFF preceded the larger protest and drew attention to the issue. Instead, Greyson has made his film, embedded above, available online for free for the duration of the festival.
“[The festival] has emphatically taken sides and in the process, forced every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the occupation to cross a type of picket line,” he wrote in a letter to TIFF organizers.
It didn’t take long for supporters of Israel and the Palestinian occupation to come out swinging, tossing absurd allegations at those protesting TIFF. Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici — an Israeli-Canadian with a history of fabricated statements and whom an Ottawa Citizen columnist called “an appalling, disrespectful man” — released a statement drawing imaginary links between the campaign and the Hamas government in Gaza. “Why does Greyson want to align himself with Holocaust deniers?” he asks.
Rhetoric aside, a more serious question remains. Should Art Threat join the boycott of TIFF and refuse to provide any coverage of the festival? Tell us what you think in the comments below.