French Cinema Chain Lifts Ban on Israeli Film After Counter-protest From Producer

The French cinema chain Utopia, which last weekend announced it had canceled all screenings of the Israeli film "Five Hours from Paris" in protest of Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, said yesterday it had reconsidered its decision.

The change of mind appears to have been prompted, in part, by a letter from Israeli-Dutch director and producer Ludi Boeken, who told the company he was withdrawing his film "Saviors in the Night" from its cinemas in counter-protest. Boeken's movie is set to premiere in France next week.

"The company's decision not to screen the film ["Five Hours from Paris"] because of the Israeli policy is unjustified. The French public has been exposed, over the last decade, to brave works by Israeli filmmakers - which were the diametric opposite of propaganda," Boeken wrote to the Utopia management. "These films are partly sponsored by a public trust, the Israeli Film Foundation, which is under constant attack from the Israeli right."

Boeken said the Utopia management was wrong to take Israeli artists hostage, "as most of them do not support the policy of the Israeli government. For this reason, I am withdrawing my film from the Utopia cinemas, in solidarity with the censored."

A scene from the Israeli film "Five Hours from Paris"

Utopia released a press statement yesterday, saying the decision to cancel all screenings of the Israeli film was made "in a very particular context" - referring to the moment they learned of the Israeli raid on the flotilla, just as their schedule was being finalized.

"We, ordinary citizens who operate cinemas, felt that removing the film from our screens was the only way available to us to attract public attention to this issue and to express our indignation at the acts of the Israeli government," the statement said.

The management noted that it was only from Boeken's letter that they learned the Israeli right wing had been attacking the Film Foundation and the freedom of speech enjoyed by local filmmakers.

"It's reasonable to say that had we been aware of that earlier on, it may well have influenced our decision," they said. They noted that they do not regret removing the Israeli film from their listings, but clarified that they had no intention of censoring or boycotting Israeli cinema in general, and filmmaker Leonid Prudovsky's work in particular.

"We are certainly ready to include the film in our next screening schedule, as the original message we sought to get across via the cancelation has [been achieved]," they said.

Utopia's decision to boycott the Israeli film proved outstanding PR. The media has discussed the movie and Utopia extensively since the weekend, and it's already playing across France as it was distributed in over 40 cinemas, with only three copies sent to Utopia.

"Utopia's decision created considerable publicity for the film," producer Haim Mecklberg said yesterday.