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Fonda, Loach and Klein Among Those Joining Protest Against TIFF

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 3, 2009 at 8:0AM

A protest of the Toronto International Film Festival has found some considerable support from international group of more than 50 prominent filmmakers, writers, artists and academics – including Ken Loach, David Byrne, Naomi Klein, B. Ruby Rich, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Wallace Shawn, Eve Ensler and Danny Glover – who have each signed a letter protesting the festival’s decision to spotlight the city of Tel Aviv and the work of 10 Israeli filmmakers. On Monday, indieWIRE reported on Canadian filmmaker John Greyson's decision to withdrawn his short film "Covered" from this year's Toronto International Film Festival lineup due to a disagreement with the festival's program spotlighting films from Tel Aviv. Now The Globe and Mail is reporting that Greyson has found allies in the aforementioned, who have published the online, with a call for additional signatories (you can view it in its entirety on the second page of this story).
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A protest of the Toronto International Film Festival has found some considerable support from international group of more than 50 prominent filmmakers, writers, artists and academics – including Ken Loach, David Byrne, Naomi Klein, B. Ruby Rich, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Wallace Shawn, Eve Ensler and Danny Glover – who have each signed a letter protesting the festival’s decision to spotlight the city of Tel Aviv and the work of 10 Israeli filmmakers. On Monday, indieWIRE reported on Canadian filmmaker John Greyson's decision to withdrawn his short film "Covered" from this year's Toronto International Film Festival lineup due to a disagreement with the festival's program spotlighting films from Tel Aviv. Now The Globe and Mail is reporting that Greyson has found allies in the aforementioned, who have published the online, with a call for additional signatories (you can view it in its entirety on the second page of this story).

"We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City," the new letter states. "Nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However … we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of … an apartheid regime."

The letter is particularly significant in that it includes endorsements by several Israeli filmmakers and at least one Palestinian-Israeli director, Elia Suleiman, who has a film in this year’s festival – "The Time that Remains." He has decided not to withdraw the film.

The protest stems from an open letter addressed to Toronto's Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey and Noah Cowan that John Greyson wrote late last week. Greyson's issue with the program had partially stemmed from a belief that the festival's organizers had - to some degree - been associated with a million-dollar "Brand Israel"’ campaign to "change negative perceptions of the state of Israel." Greyson notes an article in the Canadian Jewish News, where Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin described "the culmination of his year-long Brand Israel campaign," which includes "a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand." Essentially, Greyson felt this is "not the right year to celebrate Brand Israel" due to an unfortunate set of events he lists that have occurred in the country in the past twelve months.

Cameron Bailey - the programmer of City to City - responded to Greyson with an open letter posted on the festival's website last Friday. Bailey states in his letter that there was no pressure from any outside source in the program's conception, and that it's "a product only of TIFF’s programming decisions." "The open letter I posted captures my response to the protest," Bailey told indieWIRE earlier this week. "The most important parts for me are that we curated the series independently, without coercion from 'the Israeli propaganda machine,' and that I'd be grateful if people could watch the films -- many of them offering social critiques of Tel Aviv -- and bring whatever points of view they may have on the films into the discussions in the theatre."

Numerous comments met indieWIRE's initial article, both passionately in support and against Greyson's decision (though more predominantly against it).

Read Greyson's letter in its entirety here, and Bailey's response here. Continue to page two for the letter published today.

An Open Letter to the Toronto International Film Festival:

September 2, 2009

As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.

In 2008, the Israeli government and Canadian partners Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation launched “Brand Israel,” a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel. Brand Israel would take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its aggressive wars, and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture. An article in Canadian Jewish News quotes Israeli consul general Amir Gissin as saying that Toronto would be the test city for a promotion that could then be deployed around the world. According to Gissin, the culmination of the campaign would be a major Israeli presence at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008.)

In 2009, TIFF announced that it would inaugurate its new City to City program with a focus on Tel Aviv. According to program notes by Festival co-director and City to City programmer Cameron Bailey, “The ten films in this year’s City to City programme will showcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity.”

The emphasis on 'diversity' in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

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. 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 letter was drafted by the following ad hoc committee:

Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel; Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada; Richard Fung, video artist, Canada; John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada; Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada; Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada; Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada; b h Yael, film and video artist, Canada

Endorsed by:

Ahmad Abdalla, Filmmaker, Egypt

Hany Abu-Assad, Filmmaker, Palestine


Mark Achbar, Filmmaker, Canada

Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist, South Africa

Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Filmmaker, Jerusalem

Anthony Arnove, Publisher and Producer, USA

Ruba Atiyeh, Documentary Director, Lebanon

Joslyn Barnes, Writer and Producer, USA

John Berger, Author, France

David Byrne, Musician, USA

Guy Davidi Director, Israel

Na-iem Dollie, Journalist/Writer, South Africa

Igor Drljaca, Filmmaker, Canada

Eve Ensler, Playwright, Author, USA

Eyal Eithcowich, Director, Israel

Sophie Fiennes, Filmmaker, UK

Peter Fitting, Professor, Canada

Jane Fonda, Actor and Author, USA

Danny Glover, Filmmaker and Actor, USA

Noam Gonick, Director, Canada

Malcolm Guy, Filmmaker, Canada

Mike Hoolboom, Filmmaker, Canada

Annemarie Jacir, Filmmaker, Palestine

Fredric Jameson, Literary Critic, USA

Juliano Mer Khamis, Filmmaker, Jenin/Haifa

Bonnie Sherr Klein Filmmaker, Canada

Paul Laverty, Producer, UK

Paul Lee, Filmmaker, Canada

Yael Lerer, publisher, Tel Aviv

Jack Lewis, Filmmaker, South Africa

Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK

Arab Lotfi, Filmmaker, Egypt/Lebanon

Kyo Maclear, Author, Toronto

Mahmood Mamdani, Professor, USA

Fatima Mawas, Filmmaker, Australia

Tessa McWatt, Author, Canada and UK

Cornelius Moore, Film Distributor, USA

Yousry Nasrallah, Director, Egypt

Rebecca O'Brien, Producer, UK

Pratibha Parmar, Producer/Director, UK

Jeremy Pikser, Screenwriter, USA

John Pilger, Filmmaker, UK

Shai Carmeli Pollak, Filmmaker, Israel

Ian Iqbal Rashid, Filmmaker, Canada

Judy Rebick, Professor, Canada

David Reeb, Artist, Tel Aviv

B. Ruby Rich, Critic and Professor, USA

Wallace Shawn, Playwright, Actor, USA

Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker and Scholar, Paris/London/Sderot

Elia Suleiman, Fimmlaker, Nazareth/Paris/New York

Eran Torbiner, Filmmaker, Israel

Alice Walker, Writer, USA

Thomas Waugh, Professor, Canada

Howard Zinn, Writer, USA

Slavoj Zizek, Professor, Slovenia

To add your name to this letter, please send your name, occupation and country to tiff.letter@gmail.com. We will accept signatures until September 8, 2009

For further reading on this issue:

Letter by Canadian filmmaker John Greyson on withdrawing his film from the Toronto International Film Festival in protest against City to City:

http://tiny.cc/tiff_open_letter

Response by TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey to Greyson’s withdrawal and this petition:

http://www.tiff.net/livefromthefestival/openlettercitytocity

Report in Israeli daily Haaretz:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1110750.htmlspages/1110750.html

Report in Guardian newspaper, UK:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/sep/01/israel-palestine-boycott-film

Statement by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1085etemplate.php?id=1085