We at Creative Community For Peace (CCFP) applaud the creators of the London Israeli Film Festival for showcasing “the many voices throughout Israel.” We applaud Curzon Cinemas for standing up for freedom of expression, releasing a principled statement making it clear that they “do not consider booking a festival as any kind of political comment.” Indeed, a festival is not about politics. It is about art.
More than forty “artists, producers, and concerned citizens” have called on cinemas around London to refuse to host the London Israeli Film and Television Festival, claiming that because the festival receives funding from the Israeli government, hosts will be complicit in Israeli government actions.
Complicit? Supporting the arts is generally accepted as something good – to be commended. So when the Israeli government does something good, such as funding an inclusive and diverse film festival, should the government and the artists be punished for that? If one is to support the artists but not the funding that supports them, who wins? Who loses?
The letter stresses it is not a request to refuse to show films by individual film-makers “but to reject the involvement and financial support of the Israeli state.” But the coalition includes film and TV creators whose projects were repeatedly financed by UK government-backed organizations such as the BBC, the UK Film Council and BFI. If someone has problems with a UK government action, should they be rallying against those organizations continuing to receive government support, or against a film festival that also gets government backing, or a film or TV show that receives that support?
Most states around the world engage in cultural diplomacy, working to reach out to communities around the globe through the arts. If one is opposed to government funding of film, then one would be hard-pressed to participate in any international film festival. If one is merely opposed to Israeli government funding of film, then one is guilty of discrimination and double-standards.
Did this group voice any objection in September 2014 when the Safar Festival of Arab Cinema received funding from the government of the United Arab Emirates? Were the hosting institutions complicit in the UAE’s crackdown on political dissent, its outlawing of political parties, and its official discrimination against women?
Did these citizens simply forget to speak out against government funding of film festivals last month when the 20th annual London Turkish Film Festival received funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism? Were the hosts and participants complicit in the 40-year-old Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus?
Of course not.
We at Creative Community For Peace, an organization representing prominent members of the entertainment industry devoted to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel, believe that film is powerful. It is the ultimate story-telling medium, allowing us to step into the shoes of “the other,” to understand their lives, their dreams, and their concerns. One of the greatest barriers to peace in the Middle East has been the inability of the various parties to understand one another. Film can help us get past this barrier. Don’t let it be silenced.