I thought it might be interesting to post my introduction on a blog to begin a conversation because that is what this Festival is all about.
A long-time donor Patron of the Festival withdrew his support this year because he feels uncomfortable that amongst the Festival’s diverse and comprehensive line up we include films that can be viewed as critical of Israel.
“Israel is the object of much bias in the media, at the U.N., at universities etc.”
He feels that because we live here, in Canada, in comfort, we do not have the right to criticize Israel; our lives are not at risk.
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival has a sterling reputation around the world of over 100 Jewish film festivals.
We are envied because we are unaffiliated and independently funded by people like you, and therefore have the freedom to screen films that others, attached to synagogues, JCC’s and other political or religious organizations may not be able to.
This is a mixed blessing—on the one hand, we have curatorial freedom; on the other hand, it is an awesome responsibility that we take very seriously.
TJFF presents stories of Jewish life as it is lived around the world. Israeli filmmakers, who have the right to criticize Israel, as it is their own existence and experience they are reflecting on, make the Israeli films we present. It is precisely because we live here in relative comfort that we need to listen to ALL of their voices.
We invite the filmmakers to attend in person or via Skype for post film Q & A sessions, so that you have the opportunity to converse and challenge them. We don’t try to change your mind—just to listen to alternative voices.
Most importantly though, in planning each Festival, we program according to what is available to be screened in any given year…
This year, to commemorate Israeli Memorial and Independence Days, we have new films about Martin Buber, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Yitzhak Rabin and Albert Einstein (a founder of Hebrew University). As well,Hagiga, a two part film about the history of Israeli cinema will have its North American premiere at the Festival.
About one third of our program is Israeli, a reflection of both our devotion and the excellence of the Israeli film industry, and we are proud of the scope of ideas and subjects that will be presented.
We agonize over some selections. I remember a film Paying for Justice about the Claims Conference, an organization entrusted with many millions of dollars to be distributed among Holocaust survivors. One of the children of a survivor uncovered massive fraud while survivors were living and dying in poverty.
We were told that it would be disturbing to survivors if we showed the film, it would embarrass the community, “airing our dirty laundry in public”. We were threatened with a lawsuit but we screened the film because we felt it was a story that deserved consideration. As it turned out, a couple of years later, charges were brought against some members of the Claims Conference, which resulted in fines and jail terms for the guilty.
According to our mandate, the Festival serves as “a mirror of and a window to the Jewish experience around the world”.
It isn’t always easy; we sometimes don’t like what we see; it is our job and we do it with pride.
Suanne and I just looked through the program to choose films for us. It all looks great.
Regarding your welcome message, the quality of the festival, to us, has been the wide range and lack of political censorship like the donor who withdrew expressed to you. It seems that there are attempts to hijack cultural events by those with an ideology along the lines of the current Israeli government, without realizing that freedom still reigns within Israel.
I often tell friends and family that Israel has a better democracy than many Jews here think, and that Israelis have freedom of expression that some Jews here think shouldn’t be allowed. As I am very well acquainted with Israel, including internal debates, I believe that those like your ex-donor need a bit of education about Israel, which seems sorely lacking. Presumably your donor will no longer attend, which is a shame.
Bravo for this festival and the choices for the program. “This is 2016” and your program reflects it. Thanks for not caving in.
It’s always nice to hear your comments. Please feel free to enter into the discussion.
You can send your comments to:
TJFF@TJFF.ca or Helenz@tjff.ca