Future Unclear for Israel's Science-fiction Film Festival

Utopia festival won’t take place in September unless the Culture Ministry pays outstanding monies from last year’s event.

Moti Milrod

The director of an Israeli science-fiction film festival warned this week that the event may not take place this year, due to the Culture and Sports Ministry’s failure to transfer half of the festival’s 2014 budget.

“If the money isn’t transferred in the next few weeks, we won’t be able to hold it,” wrote Uri Aviv – director of Utopia, the Tel Aviv International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film – in a Facebook post. The festival is scheduled to take place in the Cinematheque on September 3.

“The second half of the 2014 support budget, 126,000 shekels ($32,850), was supposed to be deposited in February. But so far we haven’t received it,” Aviv told Haaretz. As a result, several small suppliers who provided last year’s festival with services are still waiting to be paid, he said.

The cinematheque refuses to invest money in this year’s festival until last year’s budget is settled.

“I told the festival director we won’t be holding the next festival until the deficit is covered,” said Cinematheque CEO Alon Garbuz. He said the money had been delayed because of improper financial conduct by the festival in previous years, and the Israel Film Council’s claim that the festival’s budget is less than 400,000 shekels. According to the law, festivals’ budget must be at least 400,000 shekels to be eligible for support.

“I hope the ministry’s subsidies committee considers the appeal we submitted last Sunday and approves the money transfer,” added Garbuz.

Aviv, however, says the festival budget is higher than 400,000 shekels, and that all his requests to the Film Council and Culture Ministry to tell him the cause of the delay have gone unanswered.

He said the ministry’s legal department sent him a letter saying the matter was being sorted out with the cinematheque, which receives the money for the festival.

The letter also said the ministry was aware of the preparations for this year’s festival and would try to get the matter sorted as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, various people in the film industry and writers have joined the efforts to prevent the festival’s closure.

“Utopia plays a critical role both for filmmakers in Israel and film buffs by showing the best science fiction and fantasy films every year,” said director Avi Nesher (“The Secrets”). “It’s important to do everything possible to keep this festival going and maintaining its scope,” he added.

Author and poet Shimon Adaf said, “In recent years, I’ve taken part in activities organized for Utopia and they made a significant contribution to my work as a writer. I think it’s vital that Utopia continues to exist and encourages artists to look for alternative forms of expression of life on Earth.”

“They can’t suddenly decide now to cancel the festival, which has been developing year by year and is responsible for mixing some of the most creative fields, genres and projects I’ve encountered,” said writer Sarah Blau. “Maybe my view is utopian, too, but I want to believe there’s a place here for a festival dealing with science, imagination and the future.”

The Culture and Sports Ministry said in response, “The matter is currently being discussed by the ministry’s subsidies committee and examined with Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The committee will advise the cinematheque of its decision as soon as it completes its examination.”