Israeli Film

The money provided by the Israeli Embassy comes from their Department of Culture. It is simply to facilitate cultural exchange - in this case, the visit of a filmmaker whose view of his own country, h...

The money provided by the Israeli Embassy comes from their Department of Culture. It is simply to facilitate cultural exchange - in this case, the visit of a filmmaker whose view of his own country, happens to be nuanced, non-partisan and documentary.

The funding is, in this sense, no different from the travel bursaries provided by Unifrance, for French filmmakers, or the Goethe Institute, for German ones. It is not in the strict sense "sponsorship" (we are no more "sponsored" by the government of Israel, than we are "sponsored" by the French, the Germans, et al), though I understand that it may appear as such to outsiders. Technically, the term "sponsorship" connotes a commercial exchange, whereas "programme supporter" denotes a cultural subsidy. A small, but important distinction.

However, this funding was secured some three months ago, well before the commencement of current hostilities in Lebanon. Of course we acknowledge that the situation has altered dramatically since then, and with this in mind, took the decision early yesterday to decline any funding from the Israelis. 

Should the Israeli director choose to attend the festival, then the festival shall pay for his visit out of its own budget. But regardless of whether he attends or not, the film screening will go ahead as planned. Please allow us to explain why: 

The film in question, Five Days, is made by one Yoav Shamir - a filmmaker who has been a trenchant critic of his government's policies. His  previous film, Checkpoint, screened at the festival in 2003, and was in fact an explicitly pro-Palestinian work: an observation of various intimidations and harassments suffered by ordinary Palestinian citizens at the hands of Israeli soldiers overseeing border checkpoints. 

Indeed, a glance back at the programming of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, over the past decade, reveals that the vast majority of filmmaking from Israel has been from filmmakers opposed to their government's policies - and many of the films, indeed, have been Israel-Palestine co-productions. 

We don't believe that is in the public interest to ban these films, just because they happen to be from a state with whose official policies one might not agree. Indeed, we do not believe in banning work from any country - particularly work which takes a critical or interrogatory stance on its government. This path leads only to censorship - for who is to say, that if we accede to the notion of Israel as a "rogue state" and refuse henceforth to show any Israeli films, that other such demands will not follow? 

The Americans, for example, might declare the nation of Iran beyond the pale, an "axis of evil" (events certainly seem to be heading that way), and demand that we should ban all Iranian cinema. Would they be right? We would argue not. Or, conversely, if we considered America to be an evil imperialist empire, and chose to show no American films, what about a Michael Moore documentary? Or a Noam Chomsky portrait? What of the dissidents, the protesters, the public intellectuals? We would no more prevent a film from Israel from screening here, than we would agree to an Israeli demand to withdraw any Palestinian or Lebanese films from our programme.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is dedicated at all times to the notion of an exchange of ideas, and to freedom of speech for all filmmakers. While we emphatically do not condone the recent actions of Israel, to reject the opportunity to allow this director to present his work to an audience, also rejects the possibility of dialogue between Israelis and the rest of the world - something the present situation would seem very much to require. No one learns anything from banning films, any more than we might from censoring books; it only cultivates ignorance and prejudice.  When, on the contrary, what is needed is enlightenment and education.

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