Director of Opening Night Film in Tel Aviv LGBT Film Fest Boycotts Screening

'The pain of the apartheid struggle [is] still fresh in our collective consciousness,' South African John Trengove wrote the organizers of TLVFest, which starts Thursday

A still from John Trengove's "The Wound."
A still from John Trengove's "The Wound."

John Trengove, the South African director whose film “The Wound” is scheduled to open the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival on June 1, announced on Thursday that he was pulling out of the festival, in identification with the cultural boycott against Israel.

“While I appreciate that the organizers of TLVFest may be well intentioned and progressive, it is impossible to look past the fact that the festival (and my participation in it) could serve as a diversion from the human rights violations being committed by the state of Israel,” Trengove said in a letter sent late last week to festival organizers. He wrote that while his “wish is that [“The Wound”] not be shown in Israel while current conditions persist,” he was aware that his film had been scheduled for screening at the festival and had also been picked up for Israeli distribution.

The festival directors expressed regret over Trengove’s decision, explained that the festival does not represent the view of the Israeli government and said that the South African director’s film could not be withdrawn from the festival.

“In the last few days I have been approached by activist organizations as well as members of the South African film community, urging me to respect the cultural boycott against Israel, and specifically TLVfest,” Trengove wrote, adding: “With the pain of the Apartheid struggle still fresh in our collective consciousness, the issue is, as you can imagine, a very sensitive one for many South Africans.”

Trengove’s letter noted that the activists had raised with him the issue of so-called pink-washing, or promoting a progressive stand on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in order to conceal injustice on other fronts. The director also apologized for the lateness of his decision, only a week before the festival.

“I understand that it is very late for me to make such a decision, and for this I am sincerely sorry. It is out of naivety, and a desire for my film and the human issues it promotes to be seen as far and wide as possible, that I accepted your invitation several weeks ago. Unfortunately, knowing what I now know, I feel it is imperative that I withdraw myself from attending,” Trengove wrote.

In its reply to Trengove, the organizers stated that the festival “does not ‘pinkwash’ or represent the policy of any government. We strive toward equality and tolerance regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, or political view,” adding that they screen films about the Palestinian issue and that every year they search for films about Palestinian LGBT people.

“Although we have heard that the leaders of the BDS think that art has no power to change reality, we believe that art is the way to change the politics of this complicated place we’re living in,” the organizers wrote. “We do not deny being partially sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, but no international film festival in Israel can be held without their support. Unlike other countries it is impossible to have a festival without government support.”

The founder and artistic director of TLVFest, Yair Hochner, told Haaretz that “The Wound” would be screened as scheduled. “We won’t surrender to any person and any organization that uses violence against a film festival that’s fighting for its life only because it’s an LGBT festival,” Hochner said. “Had Trengove attended the opening night and presented his opinions, I would admire him much more. We’re aware of the pressure on artists not to come to Israel, and I’m happy that those who are really famous and important didn’t surrender to violence and will attend the festival.”