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Photo: CD Bank
Edinburgh Film Festival: We'll reject Israeli sponsorship
Pro-Palestinian lobbyists demand that organizers of International Film Festival in Edinburgh block participation of Israeli films, artists

Pro-Palestinian lobbyists demanded that organizers of the International Film Festival in Edinburgh block the participation of Israeli films and artists in the festival. The groups claimed in a press release that dozens of writers and actors were threatening to boycott the festival if management failed to return funds provided by the Israeli embassy.


The organizations further noted their plan to declare strikes at every central film festival and shame their organizers, if they maintain ties with Israeli embassies.


As a result, the Edinburgh International Film Festival will now no longer accept money from the Israeli embassy, which was to help pay for a visit by Israeli film-maker Yoav Shamir later this month to promote his documentary, Five Days.


Shane Danielsen, artistic director of the festival, said in response that "the money provided by the Israeli Embassy comes from their Department of Culture. It is simply to facilitate cultural exchange - in this case, the visit of a filmmaker whose view of his own country, happens to be nuanced, non-partisan and documentary.


"The funding is, in this sense, no different from the travel bursaries provided by Unifrance, for French filmmakers, or the Goethe Institute, for German ones. It is not in the strict sense 'sponsorship'. We are no more 'sponsored' by the government of Israel, than we are 'sponsored' by the French, the Germans, et al, though I understand that it may appear as such to outsiders.


"However, this funding was secured some three months ago, well before the commencement of current hostilities in Lebanon. Of course we acknowledge that the situation has altered dramatically since then, and with this in mind, took the decision early yesterday to decline any funding from the Israelis.


"Should the Israeli director choose to attend the festival, then the festival shall pay for his visit out of its own budget. But regardless of whether he attends or not, the film screening will go ahead as planned."


'We do not believe in banning work'


Danielsen letter suggests that the decision to allow the filming of the movie was not easy, and derived, finally, because of its content: "The film in question, Five Days, is made by one Yoav Shamir - a filmmaker who has been a trenchant critic of his government's policies. His previous film, Checkpoint, screened at the festival in 2003, and was in fact an explicitly pro-Palestinian work."


In an apologetic tone Danielsen added: "Indeed, a glance back at the programming of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, over the past decade, reveals that the vast majority of filmmaking from Israel has been from filmmakers opposed to their government's policies - and many of the films, indeed, have been Israel-Palestine co-productions.


"We don't believe that is in the public's interest to ban these films, just because they happen to be from a state with whose official
policies one might not agree. Indeed, we do not believe in banning work from any country - particularly work which takes a critical or interrogatory stance on its government. This path leads only to censorship - for who is to say, that if we accede to the notion of Israel as a "rogue state" and refuse henceforth to show any Israeli films, that other such demands will not follow?


"The Americans, for example, might declare the nation of Iran beyond the pale, an "axis of evil" (events certainly seem to be heading that way), and demand that we should ban all Iranian cinema. Would they be right? We would argue not. Or, conversely, if we considered America to be an evil imperialist empire, and chose to show no American films, what about a Michael Moore documentary? Or a Noam Chomsky portrait?


'Politics is always part of life'


"What of the dissidents, the protesters, the public intellectuals? We would no more prevent a film from Israel from screening here, than we would agree to an Israeli demand to withdraw any Palestinian or Lebanese films from our program."


"No one learns anything from banning films, any more than we might from censoring books," Danielsen concluded. "It only cultivates ignorance and prejudice. When, on the contrary, what is needed is enlightenment and education."


Ynet has learned that Danielsen also sent a personal letter to Shamir, in which he wrote that "We have received calls and emails demanding that we pull the film, that we show no Israeli work at all, and that we deem your country a 'pariah state' - which seems to be to represent a very dangerous line to take.


"First of all, let there be no doubt that the screenings should and will go ahead as planned. I have no intention whatsoever of withdrawing your film from this festival. I think it's a significant piece of work, and a valuable contribution to an ongoing cultural debate.


"However I do feel that it might be in your best interest not to attend the festival this year - for your own sake, rather than for ours. We would be more than happy to have you here, but I suspect that some of the audience for the film will not be there for the film (so to speak), but instead to make some kind of political point during the Q&A, and I am personally loath to put you in a position where you're made a public scapegoat for the actions of your government."


Shamir, that returned Wednesday from trip to Korea and India, said in response:


"Movies are tools to promote dialog among people and to create an understanding that is much needed in our region. I'm planning to arrive there, and I have no fear from confrontation or discussion regarding the movie.


"I am an independent artist and do not represent the Israeli government. My movie is about non violent solutions to conflicts, and it seems to me that it's very important issue now days. I understand the complicity for the festival management. Regretfully, politics is always part of life.


"As a documentary artist, my basic point of view is the desire to learn about the reality and transfer my experiences through my personal view. I make movies in order to make people think and feel, and not as Danielsen regretful suggestion of bringing a pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli message. Them most important thing to me is to separate between the artists and their country." 


First published: 08.04.06, 01:41
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