Wave of Cancellations Hits Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival Due to BDS Pressure

Following South African director John Trengove’s withdrawal over the weekend, other overseas guests have dropped out of the event running from June 1-10

Itay Stern
Itay Stern
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TLVFest Director Yair Hochner in 2015.
TLVFest Director Yair Hochner in 2015.Credit: Nir Keidar
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

Pressure from the BDS movement that advocates boycotting, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel has led at least four overseas guests to cancel their attendance at TLVFest, the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival. The festival is scheduled to open on Thursday and run through June 10.

Following the announcement over the weekend by South African director John Trengrove that he was pulling out in support of the cultural boycott of Israel, he has now been joined by others. They are Canadian-Pakistani screenwriter and actor Fawzia Mirza, whose film “Signature Move” will be shown at the festival; Nadia Ibrahim, a Palestinian living in Denmark who was to serve as a member of the festival jury and appear on a panel; and Swiss actor Jasna Fritzi Bauer.

In addition, the writer, director and actor Helene Hegemann said she would not be coming due to a scheduling conflict.

Pinkwatching Israel, which is an arm of the BDS movement, wants to promote a cultural boycott of Israel because of so-called “pinkwashing” – displaying openness toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for the purpose of concealing more serious injustices. There are several posts on the movement’s Facebook page calling on guests to refrain from attending the festival, with the claim that their participation contributes to a continued normalization of Israel and the occupation.

Haaretz has received information to the effect that the festival has been significantly harmed by the wave of cancellations, since some of the guests were supposed to conduct closed artist workshops, for which the festival was granted sponsorships by commercial entities. Now these sponsors are also about to cancel their grants to the festival, which traditionally has to fight for its annual budget.

Festival Director Yair Hochner said this was not the first time he has confronted politically motivated cancellations, but added he has never seen a wave of such dimensions.

“It’s very harmful,” he said. “We work hard to promote messages that the government doesn’t promote, and then they come and tell you you’re part of the policy of oppression. We’re trying to do exactly the opposite. This decision was made by the guests, we’re continuing as usual.”

Hochner noted that Trengrove, whose film, “The Wound,” is scheduled to open the festival and who was the first to cancel, is in Israel after receiving funding from the festival for his stay.

“We paid a very generous sum for this film and his agency will never return it to us, so the screening can’t be canceled,” he said, adding that he is calling on the audience to come and see the film.

“I think that just as in Israel we don’t boycott films by Ken Loach or Emma Thompson, who openly support BDS, there’s no reason to boycott this important film, which tells a story with which we’re not familiar. In my opinion, that’s the significance of a film festival – to bridge gaps and different points of view.”

Hochner said he suggested to Trengrove that he attend the festival and speak at it. “We’re not in a dictatorship, yet. I wanted him to come and deliver some message that suits him, but he refused. He decided not to treat us like culture-loving people who are interested in dialogue,” said Hochner.

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