Via: Socialist Alternative.
The organisers of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) have disgraced themselves again. The festival counts among its sponsors the Israeli state – the very same state that is busy justifying the siege of Gaza, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the murder of peace activists and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the original inhabitants of the land.
Last year, director Ken Loach withdrew his film “Looking for Eric” from the festival because of Israeli government sponsorship. He made it known that he was doing so in solidarity with Palestine. The festival organiser, Richard Moore, dismissed Loach’s request to drop Israeli sponsorship and Loach was accused by “respectable” opinion makers of everything from bullying to censorship – simply for standing on the side of the Palestinians.
In a jaw-dropping display of doublespeak, Liberty Victoria awarded MIFF and its organisers the Voltaire award for “outstanding contribution to free speech”. This “outstanding contribution” is alleged to be a “courageous stand last year against . . . the filmmaker Ken Loach… [B]y refusing to bow to the demand of Ken Loach that it reject a modest financial contribution from the Israeli Government”.
There’s nothing courageous about taking money from an apartheid state that is oppressing millions of Palestinians. Perhaps we can expect Liberty Victoria to give Pauline Hanson a medal next for “courageously” standing up to anti-racists?
Perhaps they will retrospectively denounce Don Bradman’s decision to ban the South African cricket team from touring Australia in 1971 as a spineless capitulation to anti-apartheid groupthink?
To stand with the Israeli state today is cowardice, and to invoke “free speech” to justify it is outright dishonest – this is a state where civil-rights activists are physically threatened in the parliament for speaking out against apartheid. As Loach said last year, “you either support the boycott [of Israel] or break it. For us the choice is clear.”
This year however, the film festival organisers have gone one step further. The producer of the joint Iraqi/Palestinian film “Son of Babylon” revoked any permission to show the film upon learning of the Israeli sponsorship, stating that the filmmakers “refuse to have any association with the state of Israel until they respect the human rights of the Palestinian people”.
Rather than praise the “Son of Babylon” film team for their stance, or even respect their wishes, MIFF ignored them. Moore, on behalf of the festival, first demanded money from the film makers and then proceeded to screen “Son of Babylon” despite the express wish of the director and producers.
Moore made his rationale clear in a series of emails to the film’s producer. He derided any comparison between apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa as “odious”, and once the screenings had taken place refused the producer’s fall-back request to donate any profits from the screenings to an agreed charity, preferring instead to keep the proceeds.
MIFF organisers should be ashamed. Not only have they taken money from a terrorist state in defiance of the call for a cultural and academic boycott, but they have now spat in the face of those like the “Son of Babylon” producers who refuse to be associated with such inhumanity.
In the 1980s, when the boycott of apartheid South Africa was in place, those who broke it were seen as dirt. To knowingly work with a state based on oppression and discrimination is beneath contempt. The very same logic applies today with regard to Israel. Those who support human rights must stand alongside the Palestinians, and condemn those who side instead with their oppressors.
If MIFF and Richard Moore had any ounce of courage, let alone human decency, they would refuse any sponsorship from Israel, and donate the proceeds from “Son of Babylon” to the next pro-Palestinian flotilla so that the siege of Gaza can be broken all the sooner.
This is the full text of the letter sent by producer Isabelle Stead:
Dear Board of Melbourne International Film Festival:
Claire Dobbin (Chair), Andrew Myer (Deputy Chair), Rob Bazzani (Treasurer), David Vodicka (Secretary), Paul Wiegard, Greg Sitch, Kim McGrath, Nick Haddad, Joel Pearlman
Bcc: Australian Press
I hope this email finds you well.
A young Jewish Australian activist recently informed us that the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) received funding from the state of Israel. As such you will be aware we made an attempt to withdraw our film SON OF BABYLON from your festival. We were truly surprised that the festival failed to inform us of this vital information when requesting our film: a Palestinian co-production, bearing in mind that controversy shook your festival in 2009 when Ken Loach’s film Looking for Eric was removed for the same reason.
The discovery was made during Son of Babylon special screening at Sarajevo IFF in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of Srebrenica and whilst the director Mohamed Al-Daradji was visiting the ICMP’S (International Commission for Missing Persons) facilities in Bosnia as part of our associated IRAQ’S MISSING CAMPAIGN.
Upon hearing this news, Mohamed, Atia (our Iraqi producer) and I took immediate action by emailing your festival on Saturday 24th July at 01.49am, 2010. In the email we requested MIFF to cancel the screening of Son of Babylon on the 26th July 2010, stating that we felt duty bound not to have any association with the state of Israel until they respect the human rights of the Palestinian people. Yet despite our request your festival sent us an email on the 26th July 2010 at 06:54 (note: 29 hours later) the day of the screening refusing to cancel the screening.
For the second screening of Son of Babylon on the 28th July 2010 we had hope that your festival would respect our wishes., given you had more time. However your festival director Richard Moore outrageously requested that we pay $4450 for your festival not to screen our film (we reminded him that he didn’t hold to ransom Looking for Eric in 2009). In turn we reiterated that we had revoked any rights MIFF had been previously granted to screen the film and offered to reimburse the festival any monies they had paid our agents along with shipment costs. Your festival ignored this request and we hasten to guess that this was due to the fact on our later discovery that our agents in fact did not charge your festival to screen the film.
After the second screening went ahead without our consent we tried to obtain some remedy and requested that your festival, as a gesture of goodwill, donate the proceeds from our screenings to charity. Richard Moore’s response to this was “I have no intention of donating the admissions of the film to a charity of your choice. I don’t see any point in corresponding further on this matter.” It is truly saddening that MIFF takes this stance and has made no attempt to compromise or appease the situation in even a small way.
Please know that we are not against Jewish or the Israeli people and filmmakers. I am of Jewish decent myself and recently directed the short film Kosher about a young Jewish boy. What we are against is the Israeli government’s ongoing human rights violations against Palestine and the seizure of and sanctions on Gaza. Not forgetting the 2008/9 War on Gaza.
Through boycotting cooperating with any organisations that deal with the state of Israel we try to follow the example Australia proudly set in the 1980’s when Mr. Rod Webb, The Sydney Film Festival Director, refused to accept any sponsorship or screen films from an apartheid South Africa. As a result of this and similar boycotts working together it inspired a nation to change and brought about the release of Nelson Mandela. This is the power of belief and it is encouraging to see we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Richard Moore commented: “For the record I find your comparison between Israel and an apartheid state odious”!
Son of Babylon took us over four years to make, it wasn’t easy and we are still fighting to this day with the film’s associated IRAQ’S MISSING CAMPAIGN to have the murder of 1,000,000 + missing people in Iraq be recognised as a genocide by the United Nations. This recognition will bring justice to the many victims and aid the rebuilding of a peaceful Iraq. As such and as long as Israel continues to perpetrate crimes against humanity, neither my colleagues nor I wish for us our social impact films to be associated with Israel. When Israel respects human rights, we will of course be proud to screen our films in conjunction.
Our hope is that in speaking out about this issue with MIFF we have demonstrated that actions taken by institutions like yours that work against the goodwill of humanitarian filmmakers are downright unacceptable and we are happy to know there is shared solidarity from our fellow filmmakers like Paul Laverty and Ken Loach on this issue.
From the last email we received from your festival on the 3rd August 2010, we are regrettably coming to the unfortunate conclusion that this matter may not be resolved by communicating directly with you and that legal proceedings against the festival may be inevitable.
We would of course, be very reluctant to take this course of action but as we mentioned in an earlier email to your festival director it should not been underestimated our resolve with both Jewish and Palestinian Human Rights organisations that are behind us to ensure that your festival does not profit from it’s blatant disrespect of filmmakers wishes.
Nevertheless with a view to making some tangible progress in resolving this matter, we publicly place the onus on you Melbourne International Film Festival’s board to take positive steps and settle the issue contained within this email by donating the proceeds of our screenings to a mutually agreed charity.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Isabelle Stead – Producer: SON OF BABYLON
And on behalf of the team: Director Mohamed Al-Daradji & Producer, Atia Al-Daradji