Filmmakers challenge Israel “spotlight” at this year’s Locarno Festival

Annemarie Jacir is one of many high-profile filmmakers calling for an international festival to drop a planned “spotlight” on Israeli film.

Lamma Shoftak Philistine Films

A star-studded list of Palestinian and international filmmakers has called on the organizers of the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland to cancel its plans to highlight the Israeli film industry.

The call comes in response to plans by the festival to focus on Israeli film in its “Carte Blanche” program, taking Israeli government funding to do so.

The statement asks the festival to “reconsider their relationship to the government of Israel, and withdraw their partnership with the Israel Film Fund, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all other official Israeli entities.”

Signatories to the call include well-known Palestinian filmmakers and actors including: Annemarie Jacir, Elia Suleiman, Mohammed and Saleh Bakri, Hany Abu-Assad, Suha Arraf, Ruba Blal Asfour and Liana Badr.

They are joined by international names including Ken Loach, Richard Horowitz, Walter Bernstein, Paul Laverty, Yasmine Hamdan, Helene Louvart, Simone Bittone, Eyal Sivan and Jasmila Zbanic.

The festival has run annually since 1946 and is a major event in the cinema calendar, known for its focus on emerging talent in cinema.

Injustice

The section of the festival’s website devoted to the Carte Blanche special program currently reads:

The fifth edition of Carte Blanche, the Festival del film Locarno’s initiative dedicated to films in post-production, this year turns the spotlight on Israel. The films that will be selected will have the chance to be presented to the professionals attending Locarno during the Industry Days.

Thanks to a partnership with the Israel Film Fund, which coordinates the Israeli works in progress of the initiative, Carte Blanche will select 5 to 7 films in post-production. The producers of the selected films will attend the Locarno Festival and present their work to industry professionals. Intended to facilitate the films’ completion and distribution, they will be screened to sales agents, buyers, programmers and representatives of post-production support funds for attending Locarno during the Industry Days event (8 – 10 August). A jury of professionals from the sector will be convened to select the best film, which will receive an award worth 10,000 CHF.

But opponents of Israel’s inclusion in such a high-profile slot at the festival, and with major Israeli government funding for the festival, stated in an 11 April press release that:

We hope that our colleagues and friends at the Locarno Film Festival will stand with us. We hope you will recognize the direness of the present situation, and that you will choose to stand for human dignity in the face of barbarity and injustice perpetrated against any and all peoples.

A longer statement on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel adds that:

We are particularly disturbed about the timing of this Locarno Film Festival decision to promote Israel, coming on the heels of Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza in the summer of 2014, where more than two thousand Palestinians were killed, including more than five hundred children. Locarno’s decision also follows the election of the most racist, far-right government in Israel’s history.

The calls for the Locarno Film Festival to reject Israeli government funding follow campaigns challenging Israel’s attempts to boost its international image through arts and cultural propaganda. These have seen Israel’s presence in film festivals challenged in recent cases from Montpellier, France and Bristol, UK to San Francisco and Texas in the US.

The Locarno Film Festival organizers have also faced calls in previous years to rethink Israeli links. In 2006, the festival dropped funding from the State of Israel after an open letter by Palestinian, Lebanese and Swiss filmmakers protested Israel’s ferocious attacks on civilians during its 2006 war on Lebanon.

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As a filmmaker and one who is well aware of the significance and reputation of the Locarno Film Festival, especially amongst independent filmmakers and actors, I am horrified by Carlo Chatrian's decision and cannot understand how he could have made such a mistake.

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Sarah Irving

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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.