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An Open Letter to Jane Fonda and the Toronto Film Festival Boycotters

The celebrity boycott of the Toronto Film Festival for the sin of screening Tel Aviv cinema is unjustified and self-defeating.

by
Stephanie L. Freid

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September 10, 2009 - 12:20 am
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Boycott season it is, indeed. The dust hasn’t settled yet regarding Ben Gurion University’s tenured political science professor, Neve Gordon, publicly calling for cultural and academic boycotts of Israel, and an uproar surrounding this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has already erupted.

A prestigious film industry gathering, the festival is billed as “one of the world’s most important cultural events” on the official TIFF website.

But apparently, the organizers are clueless. Because in inaugurating the festival’s new City-to-City Spotlight strand, they chose to highlight Tel Aviv. And that didn’t go over well with a handful of industry people like David Byrne (Remember the Talking Heads?), Danny Glover, John Greyson, Alice Walker, and Jane Fonda, who collectively called for a festival boycott, signed a protest letter to event organizers, and withdrew film submissions.

In a letter to festival powers-that-be, filmmaker John Greyson justified yanking his work based on Israeli action in Gaza and settlement expansion. He accused festival organizers of “an ostrich-like indifference to the realities (cinematic and otherwise) of the region” and compared the strand to one “celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963 … Chilean wines in 1973 … or South African fruit in 1991.” His objection was not due to the Israeli titles being screened, but over what he termed the festival’s co-operation with Israel’s “Brand Israel” marketing agenda.

After browsing the list of protesters, I headed on over to Jane Fonda’s blog — she’s been quite vocal and visible on this issue and she was one of the people who signed the petition decrying TIFF’s Spotlight Tel Aviv decision.

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