Germany's Only Jewish Film Festival in Danger of Closure

Around 100 Jewish film festivals are held worldwide each year, most of them in the U.S. and Canada.

Germany's only Jewish Film Festival is in danger of closing down due to lack of funding, the event's founder and director Nicola Galliner said on Monday.

Galliner, a London native who launched the festival in 1994, said all her appeals for funding to the Berlin municipality, which had supported the festival in the past, had been rejected.

"Suddenly they rejected us, all the doors were closed. I don't understand their attitude," she told Haaretz.

Barring any change, the April 2010 festival will be held in a scaled-back format. Galliner said she has managed to raise only about 40 percent of the festival's budget, estimated at 230,000 euros.

So far only one guest from overseas has been invited to the festival, held in the Arsenal cinema near Berlin's central Potsdamer Platz from April 25 to May 9. The number of planned film broadcasts has been reduced and the festival's promotion program was canceled.

"I hope we'll be able to hold the festival," she said.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, a prominent supporter of the festival in past years, was not doing enough to help it succeed this year, Galliner told DPA last month. "We are getting little encouragement from his office," she said.

Galliner said political considerations were probably partly behind the Berlin municipality's refusal to support the festival this year. "They just don't care and they don't understand that it's important. In my opinion the existence of such a festival is extremely important, because there is strong xenophobia and anti-Semitism in this country."

She said it was important to have a Jewish film festival in a city like Berlin, which has a multicultural image.

Around 100 Jewish film festivals are held worldwide each year, most of them in the United States and Canada. But the Berlin event, now in its 16th year, is unique in Germany.

"Half the films in our festival are Israeli, and we're different from the American festivals because 80 percent of our audience is not Jewish," said Galliner.

Berlin's state secretary of culture, Andre Schmitz, was among the speakers at the festival's opening ceremony last year. "The Jewish Film Festival is one of the few pearls that the city of Berlin can show, and does so joyfully every year," he said.

"But the city has changed its attitude to the festival," Galliner said, noting that both local and national culture funds, which in the past supported the festival, refused to do so this year.

In December the Berlin Lottery Foundation pledged a 55,000 euro contribution for the festival, but on terms Galliner called "insulting." Among other things the lottery demanded she work for nothing and slash her two staff members' wages by a third. Galliner refused and the contribution was canceled.

The festival opened last year with "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," the story of the Holocaust from a young German boy's point of view. "Someone from the Government Press Office attended the screening and was so impressed he persuaded his colleagues to buy 15,000 DVD copies of it," Galliner said.

The copies were later distributed to all German schools and were recommended to be shown as part of history studies.

Berlin Senate spokesman Richard Meng said Galliner's complaints were unfair. "For years the festival was supported by a Berlin foundation, whose funds were federal. Recently the support stopped because regulations stipulated it support only projects, not institutions on a regular basis," he said.

The city tried to help the festival and persuade community organizations (including the local Jewish community) to support it, Meng added. "It's not that we don't want a festival, the question is only who is supposed to support it," he said.