Toronto has become home to an international controversy since a group of 1500 signatories signed an open letter to boycott the Toronto International Film Festival (not to be confused with the Toronto Palestine Film Festival which debuted on Saturday September, 26, 2009).
The 34th annual TIFF took place from September 9 - September 18th this year and boasts over 300 films. So what could the festival have possibly done to piss of this group of Palestine supporters?
Here's a copy of their open letter, published on September 2nd, by the group called "No Celebration to Occupation." Read the issue straight from the horse's mouth:
An Open Letter to the Toronto International Film Festival:
September 2, 2009
As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv.We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.
In 2008, the Israeli government and Canadian partners Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation launched “Brand Israel,” a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel. Brand Israel would take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its aggressive wars, and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture. An article in Canadian Jewish News quotes Israeli consul general Amir Gissin as saying that Toronto would be the test city for a promotion that could then be deployed around the world. According to Gissin, the culmination of the campaign would be a major Israeli presence at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008.)
In 2009, TIFF announced that it would inaugurate its new City to City program with a focus on Tel Aviv. According to program notes by Festival co-director and City to City programmer Cameron Bailey, “The ten films in this year’s City to City programme will showcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity.”
The emphasis on 'diversity' in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This 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 or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. 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.
We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.
This letter has some very high-profile signatories and supporters, including:
Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel; Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada; Richard Fung, video artist, Canada; John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada; Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada; Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada; Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada; b h Yael, film and video artist, Canada.
(Naomi Klein is probably the most well-known to Toronto youth: she wrote Shock Doctrine and - the extremely famous - No Logo. A leftist bible; it is one of the most influential books of the anti-globalization movement.)
"No Celebration to Occupation" has a blog site they are using to update readers on their issue. We will definitely be following along.
There are many ways to read into this. Is it fair for TIFF to showcase Israel, and not Palestine? Is TIFF taking sides? And, is this really Israeli propaganda?
I fear that many will perceive this entire situation as another instance of self-righteous Arab whining. However, the group's long list of supporters might suggest otherwise.