50 artists accuse Toronto festival of complicity with Israel propaganda

Some 50 celebrities, artists and filmmakers, including actors Jane Fonda and Danny Glover, musician David Byrne and filmmaker Ken Loach, have accused the Toronto International Film Festival of “complicity with the Israeli propaganda machine” over its spotlight this year on Tel Aviv.

The 2009 festival, which runs from Sept. 10 to Sept. 19, will present 10 films made in or about Tel Aviv by local filmmakers for the event’s new City to City program, which will focus on a different city each year.

The choice led to protests that the film festival was “staging a propaganda campaign” on Israel’s behalf, given “the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program,” according to a letter to festival organizers.

The 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” after a “mass exiling of the Palestinian population” in 1948, the letter said, according to AFP.

“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,” the letter said.

The controversy started on Aug. 28 when Canadian filmmaker John Greyson withdrew his film in protest.

Festival co-director Cameron Bailey said last week that the festival was showcasing two films by Palestinian directors. Bailey was attracted to Tel Aviv because “films being made there explore and critique the city from many different perspectives,” Bailey said. But “we recognize that Tel Aviv is not a simple choice and the city remains contested ground.”

Among the films being screened are Danny Lerner’s “Kirot,” Keren Yedaya’s “Jaffa,” Uri Zohar’s “Big Eyes” and Eytan Fox’s “The Bubble,” films which Jerusalem Post film critic Hannah Brown says shows Israel society, warts and all.

“Anyone who would call ‘The Bubble’ pro-Israeli propaganda, when it focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and has a hero who falls in love with a Palestinian, is so absurd as to defy any logic,” Brown wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week. — jpost.com