Prominent Filmmaker Boycotts Haifa Festival to Protest Israeli 'Apartheid'

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Award-winning Indian director Mira Nair has turned down an invitation to be guest of honor at the Haifa Film Festival for political reasons, posting on her Twitter page that she would not visit Israel until "Apartheid is over."

“I will not be going to Israel at this time,” she tweeted last Friday in the second of five tweets on the subject of Israel. The first tweet announced that she had been invited to the film festival as guest of honor. “I will go to Israel when the walls come down. I will go to Israel when occupation is gone.”

By declining the offer, Nair joins a long line of artists and intellectuals -- including the Pixies, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Alice Walker and Stephen Hawking -- who have boycotted Israel in recent years in protest over the government’s policy toward the Palestinians. The Haifa Film Festival, which opens September 19, will run for ten days. Festival officials wanted to screen Nair’s latest film, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012.

Nair tweeted three additional messages on Friday. “I will go to Israel when the state does not privilege one religion over another. I will go to Israel when Apartheid is over,” she wrote. Then she added, “I will go to Israel, soon,” but in her fifth and final tweet on the issue that day, she wrote, “I stand w/Palestine for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) & the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Mov't.”

Nair is following in the footsteps of another esteemed film director, Ken Loach, who in 2006 declined to attend the Israeli premiere of his film “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” at the Haifa Film Festival. Loach, too, said his decision was meant to protest Israel’s policies, adding that he was participating in the cultural and academic boycott of Israel. British-Jewish film director Mike Leigh, who was supposed to visit in 2010, also called off his visit at the last minute to protest Israel’s policies in the territories.

“In my view, an academic boycott is a sign of weakness and cowardice,” Pnina Blair, artistic director of the Haifa Film Festival, told Haaretz on Sunday. “As I said in the past — and I hold firmly to this opinion — I oppose cultural boycotts of any kind. The Haifa Film Festival is an exemplar of pluralism and coexistence, and our program reflects this approach. The films screened at the festival are chosen solely by artistic criteria. I invite any filmmaker on earth to come to the festival and express his views here, in front of an Israeli audience. By doing so he can promote his goals and opinions, face his opponents with courage and join hands with his supporters.”

Nair, who was born in India in 1957, studied at the University of Delhi and at Harvard. She currently lives in New York. Nair began her film career as an actress, and at a certain stage began directing documentaries. Her first feature film was “Salaam Bombay!” which she directed in 1988. It won the Audience Award and the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Her film “Monsoon Wedding” won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2001. She also directed “Mississippi Masala” (1991), “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love” (1996) and “Vanity Fair” (2004).

Her latest film, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which is based on the novel of the same name by Mohsin Hamid, tells the story of a young Pakistani man who works on Wall Street and finds himself caught up in a conflict between the American dream, a hostage crisis and longing for his homeland. It is still unclear whether the film will be screened at the Haifa Film Festival.

Mira Nair is boycotting Haifa's film festival.Credit: Reuters

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