Bristol film festival rejects Israeli embassy funding

The Encounters Film Festival, a leading movie showcase taking place in September in Bristol, UK, announced in a recent public statement that “this year, the decision was taken to refuse the offer of financial support from the Embassy of Israel to cover the costs for its Israeli filmmakers to travel to the festival, in order to maintain the festival’s neutral political status.”

The move follows a high-profile campaign by London Zionists against the Tricycle Theatre, which rejected the UK Jewish Film Festival’s acceptance of Israeli embassy funding during the recent onslaught on Gaza.

The Tricycle, which usually hosts the festival and had stated that it “has always welcomed it and wants it to go ahead,” had offered to replace the £1,400 ($2,300) in Israeli government sponsorship cash to the festival from its own money.

But the festival organizers were said to have found this solution “unacceptable” and British Zionists apparently launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to force the Tricycle into issuing a statement saying that it was reversing its decision.

However, the same statement also says the festival will be held at an alternative venue this year: “the festival is not able to return [to the Tricycle] in 2014.”

Cultural boycott grows

Two Israeli acts – a “rap opera” and a contemporary dance troupe – were, however, withdrawn from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, after protests and an open letter by high-profile members of the Scottish arts community.

The Encounters statement also said that their short film festival was still planning to screen several Israeli films, including an Ari Folman double bill which features Waltz With Bashir, his controversial animation describing his experiences as a conscript in the Israeli army during its brutal and wide-ranging human rights violations in Lebanon in the 1980s.

According to a BBC News article on the Encounters statement, Professor Kamel Hawwash, vice-chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, had welcomed the news, pointing out the call by Palestinian civil society for a cultural boycott.

The president of the Bristol Hebrew Congregation, Alex Schlesinger, was quoted as expressing his “disappointment” with the decision, and claiming that “It really tells us that the mob on the street controls what happens at film and arts festivals. It’s particularly disappointing that the director said the filmmakers could attend in a personal capacity, not as representatives of the Jewish state.”

Full Encounters Festival statement

Encounters Festival is proud to welcome to Bristol filmmakers from all over the world to present the best new short and animated films. The Encounters Festival supports the right for all filmmakers to express themselves at the festival through the medium of film, regardless of their nationality or origin.

We are delighted to present filmmakers from Israel as part of our international program this year, screening Deserted by Yoav Homung and Load by Niv Shpigel in competition and a double bill of feature films by Ari Folman: Waltz with Bashir and The Congress.

Encounters Festival does not cover the travel costs of filmmakers to attend the festival. Travel costs are supported in some cases by cultural attaches and embassies that fund filmmakers directly or prefer to route the funding for their filmmakers through festivals.  The Embassy of Israel comes into this last category.

In consideration of the funding streams for the festival this year, the decision was taken to refuse the offer of financial support from the Embassy of Israel to cover the costs for its Israeli filmmakers to travel to the festival, in order to maintain the festival’s neutral political status.




I hope the festival's funding decision doesn't stop it from being a considered a cultural boycott target, since it's still featuring and promoting Israeli films; in fact, since the festival is paying for Israeli filmmakers' travel with its own funds (raised from viewers), I would think ordinary people would have more of an obligation not to support it.

Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.