Toronto protest over Israeli sidebar widens (The Hollywood Reporter)

50 artists and academics join protest over Israeli spotlight

By Etan Vlessing

Sept 3, 2009, 09:28 AM ET

TORONTO – First a single filmmaker withdrew his short film from the Toronto International Film Festival to protest its spotlight on Tel Aviv.

Now the artists and academics are piling on.

Toronto is set to open next week with a widening artist protest and possible boycott over its spotlight on Israel and its filmmakers.

Ken Loach, Jane Fonda, Wallace Shawn, Danny Glover and David Byrne are among 50 directors, writers and activists to have signed an open letter set to go online Thursday that alleges Toronto, "whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine," the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Thursday.

The latest protest, which follows the withdrawal last week of Canadian director John Greyson's short film "Covered" from the festival, reiterates the opposition is not to the presence of Israeli films in the festival ( HR, August 28).

"We object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of an apartheid regime," the letter continued.

Toronto has drawn heat for choosing Tel Aviv as the subject of its inaugural "City to City" program, which celebrates films from a selected city. As part of program, Toronto will screen Etyan Fox's "The Bubble," Uri Zohar's "Big Eyes," Efraim Kishon's 1969 farce "Big Dig" and Niv Klainer's "Bena," among other titles.

Greyson and other protesters, including Canadian author Naomi Klein, allege the Tel Aviv-to-Toronto spotlight is part of a "Brand Israel" campaign by the Israeli government that is using the festival to polish the country's international image.

Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey last week expressed disappointment about the festival boycott over the Tel Aviv spotlight, and insisted the sidebar was programmed independent of the Israeli government.

In an open letter posted on the Toronto festival website, Bailey defended the "City to City" focus he programmed.

"We recognize that Tel Aviv is not a simple choice and that the city remains contested ground," he wrote.

But Bailey also defended the festival curatorial independence: "There was no pressure from any outside source. Contrary to rumors or mistaken media reports, this focus is a product only of TIFF's programming decisions."

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