Despite Political Pressure From Jerusalem, Israeli Film Festival in Paris Refuses to Cave on 'Foxtrot'

The culture minister doesn't want the event to open with a movie she says sullies Israel and its army

A scene from the film ‘Foxtrot.’
Giora Bich/ Lev Cinemas

The Israeli film festival in Paris is determined to screen “Foxtrot” on opening night despite the protest by Culture Minister Miri Regev against a movie she says slanders the Israeli army.

This week, Regev told Haaretz that she would not “support a festival that showcases films that slander us throughout the world and contains false content about IDF soldiers and its citizens.”

“Foxtrot” focuses on the life of a family – two parents and their daughter – who live in Tel Aviv, while their son, a solider, is killed early in the film.

“I really love the movie. I don’t see anything against Israel whatever,” the festival’s director, Hélène Schoumann, told Haaretz on Monday. “So I won’t cancel it; of course not.”

Two months ago, the culture representative at the Israeli Embassy in Paris asked Schoumann to consider changing the festival’s opener.

“She asked me very tactfully,” Schoumann said. ‘She said ‘you know, maybe, it’s a movie, maybe you can use another one.’ ... And I said no. I don’t understand why she’s focusing on only one movie. You know the festival is showing around 35 movies, with documentaries, features.”

Schoumann said the Israeli government had already lent its support to the festival, and no official had asked the festival to return the money. “Of course it’s political, but I don’t think it’s a legitimate demand,” she said of Regev’s comments.

The festival has existed for 18 years, and in previous years boycott, divestment and sanction supporters showed up to demonstrate against it.

“Foxtrot” will be shown three times during the festival, which ends March 20. The screening on opening night March 13 will be attended by director Samuel Maoz.

“The damage that could be caused was prevented this time,” Maoz said, praising the festival’s management. In a Hebrew-language Facebook post Monday, Maoz wrote that Schoumann “didn’t blink despite another crazy attempt to undermine freedom of creativity,” thereby preventing the serious financial damage that such a step could have caused Israeli cinema.

On Sunday, Regev said she planned steps to prevent the government from supporting the festival, after she learned that “Foxtrot” would kick off the event. Israel’s ambassador to France, Aliza Bin-Noun, also said she would not take part in the opening event.

In his Facebook post, Maoz said that of all the countries that invest money in helping produce Israeli films, France and Germany invest the most. He said this funding, which was crucial for the survival of Israeli cinema, was now at risk.

“The Israeli film festival in Paris is an important platform for promoting and marketing Israeli art in France, and it attracts the leading distributors, investors, producers and journalists,” Maoz wrote. “France is the greatest consumer of Israeli cinema in Europe, and together with Germany is also the most generous co-producer. The [Israeli] Foreign Ministry gives the festival token support of 8,000 euros a year, and in return Israel receives several millions that our films about us use.”

Maoz said the “ridiculous” Israeli culture budget needed this support “because without it our films won’t be able to get off the ground. But the damage that could have been caused was prevented this time thanks to Hélène Schoumann, the festival director, who withstood the pressure and didn’t compromise on her right and obligation to shape the festival’s image in a way that effectively reflects the past year’s crop.”

As Maoz put it, “I assume that she decided to open with ‘Foxtrot’ because the commotion surrounding it stirs curiosity and naturally creates a good starting point . Hélèn reacted to the sabotage against her with noble determination, didn’t blink in the face of a crazy attempt to undermine freedom of creativity, and the French like her reaction and will return a lot of love to the festival and Israeli cinema.”

On Monday, the French media reported on the government’s attempt to interfere with the festival, mentioning Bin-Noun’s decision to boycott the opening, Regev’s threat and the festival’s refusal to cave.