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by Peter Knegt
September 7, 2009 9:17 AM
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TIFF Protesters Plan Press Conference For Fest's Opening Day

The Toronto skyline. Photo by Peter Knegt.

"No Celebration Under Occupation," the protest over the Toronto International Film Festival's spotlight on Tel Aviv, has announced a press conference to be held this Thursday September 10, the festival's opening day. The Toronto Star is reporting that the "tentative plan" is to hold a press conference with the final list of signators from the letter that has been circulating since last week. indieWIRE had reported that upon its inception, the letter included 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. The list has been said to have increased considerably since.

"We're very pleased because it shows that a whole bunch of people ... are concerned enough about this issue to put their name forward in public," filmmaker Richard Fung - one of the protests organizers - told The Toronto Star, emphasizing that signators to the letter of protest "are not calling for a boycott of TIFF or the City to City program." He and the other signators are concerned more about an effort by the Israel government to "white-wash human rights issues and concerns over Israeli settlements in the west bank and Gaza Strip."

The protest originated in Canadian filmmaker John Greyson's decision to withdrawn his short film "Covered" from this year's Toronto International Film Festival lineup due to a disagreement with the festival's program spotlighting films from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. In an open letter addressed to Toronto's Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey and Noah Cowan, Greyson wrote that his 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." Cameron Bailey - the programmer of City to City - responded to Greyson with an open letter posted on the festival's website. "The open letter I posted captures my response to the protest," Bailey told indieWIRE. "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."

One of Greyson's supporters is Canadian journalist, author and activist Naomi Klein, who today wrote an article in The Globe and Mail explaining her position and the position of her fellow protestors.

"'No Celebration Under Occupation,'" Klein writes, "which has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover and Ken Loach (we will be unveiling hundreds of new names on the first day of TIFF). Contrary to the many misrepresentations, the letter is not calling for a boycott of the festival. It is a simple message of solidarity that says: We don't feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to [the] millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them, and we are still outraged."

Read Klein's entire article here.

TAGS: Festivals
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1 Comment

  • Syd | September 9, 2009 6:43 AMReply

    “a whole bunch of people ... are concerned enough about this issue to put their name forward in public”...John Greyson has, in effect lit a match to a highly inflammable emotional underbrush (taking the lead from the great filmmaker and btw splinter-Trotskyite-party-member Ken Loach) which now has festival organizers and filmmakers scrambling to put out brushfires before this becomes a conflagration on a par with L.A.'s recent fires.

    Irresponsibly, with poorly thought out rationalization, he is inflaming deeply held emotions which can untrack not only TIFF but all consecutive festivals and the entire community of artists with an issue which has been causing wars for the last 5,000+ years.

    Filmmakers' and artists' ideas and passions belong on the screen allowing the rest of the public to share well thought out and well planned works which can be discussed, reviled or beloved on a case by case basis.

    This action endangers not only the public, as the man in the theater who yells “Fire!” but also the areas of artistic freedom, freedom of choice and the 5th human right, the right to be different.

    People are forced to sign the petition as if answering the attorney’s question, “Do you still beat your wife?”. If they don’t sign, does it mean they are pro Israeli government?

    Even Arab filmmakers whose films will discuss these and other issues (as will the Israeli films) resent the attention being pulled away from their films by this emotional appeal.

    John Greyson should be fighting his own battle which judging by his recent short deals with the anti-gay (another basic human right violation) sentiment and he should leave this one alone.