Actress questions document's wording reprimanding festival
Sep. 14, 2009
Actress Jane Fonda, one of the principal voices criticizing the
Toronto International Film Festival's special spotlight on Tel Aviv,
stepped back Sunday night from her position.
In an official statement, Ms. Fonda wrote that she had "signed the
letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if
some of the wording wouldn't exacerbate the situation rather than
bring about constructive dialogue.
"Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart,
words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction
of Tel Aviv as a city 'built on destroyed Palestinian villages,' for
instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas's 8-month-long
rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev
to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza. Many
citizens now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.
"In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region," Ms. Fonda added, "in
which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded
as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather
than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to
articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By
neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their
ears and their hearts."
The Fonda statement comes amid a flurry of pro- and anti-Israeli statements.
Yousry Nasrallah, an Egyptian filmmaker at TIFF, announced that two
Egyptians films, The Traveller and Heliopolis, and one unnamed Arab
short had been pulled from the festival, as part of the protest. Mr.
Nasrallah said it was the producer of Heliopolis, not its director,
Ahmad Abdalla, who wanted that film pulled.
The coalition of artist and activists opposed to the TIFF focus on
Tel Aviv because it seems to coincide with an Israeli government
plan to promote Israeli arts and sciences held a public meeting at
Ryerson University, attended by some 300 people.
They gave standing ovations to Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman
and Canadian director John Greyson, whose decision last month to pull
his short documentary from TIFF's 2009 lineup was the catalyst for
the current controversy, a standing ovation.
Although the protesters insist that they do not intend to boycott or
censor Israeli films per se, most of the people who have signed the
group's letter of protest are part of the much broader boycott,
disinvestment and sanctions campaign aimed at weakening the Israeli state.
However, Mr. Suleiman warned the audience to be careful of the
boycott weapon, saying it has to be applied selectively.
The protesters so-called Toronto Declaration, posted online with an
open request for additional signatories, has so far drawn 1,500 supporters.
The two-hour meeting, which included videotaped and written
statements from Canadian activist Naomi Klein, filmmaker Ken Loach,
novelist Alice Walker and Israeli filmmaker Uri Aloni was on one
occasion when Mr. Greyson was speaking interrupted by hecklers
from the Jewish Defence League. After repeated warnings, the hecklers
were escorted out by security personnel.
On the other side, some major names in show business, including
Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander,
Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Kudrow Monday signed their names to a
statement applauding TIFF for "including the Israeli film community
in the Festival's City to City program. Anyone who has actually seen
recent Israeli cinema … knows they are in no way a propaganda arm for
any government policy. Blacklisting them only stifles the exchange of
cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect."