A number of Israeli filmmakers recently received a letter from the directors of a the Documentary Film Festival in Lussas, France, notifying them that because of the war in Lebanon and the tense situation in the territories, the festival had changed its plan to hold a special program on Israeli documentary film.
The letter, signed by the festival’s director, artistic director, and program director, claimed that “it is difficult to look at films from the countries involved in the current war with the same degree of detachment.”
As a result, the letter said, they have decided “to change the program, and not to screen all the Israeli films that were originally scheduled.” They plan to organize a discussion of the political aspect of the conflict, and “to create a program of Lebanese and Palestinian films that will show our opposition to the war.”
According to the festival directors, their decisions were made as a political gesture. “The program was not intended to be representative of any particular national identity,” they said, but to take a critical look at Israeli society, and present opposition to Israeli policy and all “dangerous oversimplifications.”
Eighteen Israeli films were originally scheduled for screening at the festival, and seven were canceled. Festival attendees wishing to view the films can see them at the library. The other 11 Israeli films will be shown as scheduled.
Film Selection Questioned
Many of the Israeli filmmakers whose works were scheduled to be shown at the festival do not understand the position taken by the festival’s directors, or their decision to show some Israeli films and not others. Some of them feel that if a decision has been made to boycott Israeli cinema, the festival should “go all the way.” Others want to withdraw their films from the festival in protest.
After several days of discussions with festival directors, film editor Yael Perlov decided to withdraw the six segments of her father David Perlov’s film Diary that were scheduled to be screened. Yael Perlov, who will be presenting two of the films she has edited, The Settlers and Kibbutz, believes that the festival directors’ hesitations are disingenuous.
“I want the person who choses to present our films to stand behind the decision. If they want to boycott Israeli film, let them do it, but they should stop being evasive. It’s definitely a bad feeling,” she said. She does not understand why the festival directors chose to cancel the screening of David Perlov’s In Jerusalem and to leave in the segments from Diary. “Looking at Jerusalem today is not topical” she asks, “or perhaps it isn’t politically correct?”
'Capitulation to Arab pressure'
Yoram Honig, director of First Lesson in Peace, is also angry.
“It’s unfortunate and makes the festival ridiculous. During the war in Algeria did anyone consider not screening films by Goddard or Renoir? On the contrary, the world of documentary film brings issues to the surface, and it’s an important platform for discussion.
"My film speaks about co-existence and shows the difficulty (of Arabs and Jews) living together in Neveh Shalom. Other films in the program present various facets of Israeli society, and that is the goal of the platform. This looks to me like capitulation by the festival’s directors to Arab pressure, which I think is a black mark against a festival of this kind.”
Film producer Osnat Trabelsi finds the selection of films puzzling and unacceptable. “If the festival directors have decided to boycott Israeli films for political reasons, it would be completely acceptable to me if they went all the way with it. Their present position seems wrong and confused. I am in favor of getting involved, but punishing only some of the directors and placing them beyond the pale is a strange decision.”
Director Macabit Abramson, whose film Men on the Edge - Fisherman’s Diary will be screened at the festival, also opposed the decision.
“This position is anti-artistic and turns the film festival into a political festival. Art is an autonomous entity that requires freedom in all aspects and means of expression. A film festival must select films on the basis of artistic criteria, not because one or another kind of film deals with a conflict or represents different aspects of Israeli society.
"Every attempt to arrange Israeli films according to political preferences is fundamentally distorted. They are choosing what to show or what to hide, and are linking art with a point of view, which is extremely problematic. Furthermore, I don’t understand the selection.”
Abramson is ambivalent about participating in the festival. “When you are present you have the opporttunity to present your position and when you aren’t, you give that up. I don’t know what we’ll do.”
'We had to respond to a new situation'
According to festival artistic director Christophe Postic, “it wasn’t that we wanted to present one voice or a certain type of film. There is a new situation that we had to respond to. The original plan is one that I stand behind wholeheartedly. Each of the films chosen has its own significance in the larger picture, but the war in Leabaon changed the picture.
"We couldn't present only Israeli films for three days and ignore what is happening. The choice, which was a compromise, was not against Israeli films, since if it had been we would have canceled the entire program. It was not a radical choice, but a compromise intended to make room for as extensive a discussion as possible, including presenting Lebanese and Palestinian films.
“France is not part of this war, but it has groups from both sides of the conflict, Jews and Arabs who live here, we couldn't ignore that. We asked ourselves if watching an Israeli film or a Lebanese film could be separated from current events.
"We thought that organizing other plans at the same time alongside the Israeli films would to a certain extent preserve the force of the films as film. It was a difficult decision, it is not enough, but today every decision we would have made would apparently have been insufficient.
"I know about the Perlov family’s decision to withdraw Diary from the festival and I am very sorry about that. I feel close to the family’s position. This work had a special place in our program, but I also felt that these conditions were not good enough for the film.
"I hope that in spite of everything most directors will accept our suggestion and understand where we’re coming from. We must not neglect the possibility of dialogue. If we lose the ability to communicate through film, it will be catastrophic. I really hope that Israeli artists will decide not to cancel their participation. Israeli films are no less important than other films.”