Israel-centric Film Festival Changes Program Name Under Threat of Boycott

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A still from Avishai Sivan’s film Tikkun.

The Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland announced on Monday the six Israeli films that will have their world premiere at the festival, which opens on August 5. However, following protests from within the international film community at the intention to highlight Israeli films at the festival, the program under which they will be screened will be renamed “First Look.”

The program features non-final versions of the films, which are in advanced stages of post-production, from a different country every year. The goal is to allow producers to introduce their films to the various international sales agents, funders, distributors and festival programmers attending the Locarno festival. This program will run from August 8 to 10.

Members of the international film community protested the decision to highlight Israeli films, and called on the festival’s management to cancel the Israeli program and boycott Israeli films – which they justified by claims that the program was produced in cooperation with the Israel Film Fund, which receives partial government funding.

As a result the festival management decided to change the name of the program involved.

“In light of some of the reactions that this year’s edition has provoked, the festival has decided to change the name of the initiative, re-naming it ‘First Look,’ as the previously used ‘Carte Blanche’ did not reflect accurately enough the way in which the project is organized and gave rise to misinterpretations,” wrote the festival organizers. “The nature of the project dedicated to Israeli cinema is not a ‘carte blanche,’ since it is not a platform offered to the State of Israel or to the Israel Film Fund, and because the choice of films in post-production is solely down to the festival’s artistic directorate.”

The Carte Blanche program started in 2011 and has featured films from Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Brazil so far. This year the festival decided to cooperate with the Israel Film Fund to highlight Israeli productions.

The announcement in April of the program on Israeli films led to a petition signed by hundreds in the film community from various countries, including Ken Loach, Jean-Luc Godard, Mira Nair and a number of Israeli artists such as directors Eyal Sivan and Simone Bitton, as well as Palestinians.

The petition demanded that the festival management cancel the program dedicated to Israeli cinema, but the festival refused to agree to a boycott and cancel the program.

Two weeks ago, when it published the official program, the festival even made it clear that Israeli cinema would enjoy even more representation: Avishai Sivan’s film Tikkun, which recently won the best film prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival, was chosen to participate in the festival’s official competition, and Reflection by Osi Wald was chosen to participate in the short-film competition. In addition, director Nadav Lapid was invited to be a member of the jury for the Concorso Internazionale prize.

“Throughout its long history, the Festival del film Locarno has always been a place of freedom of expression for filmmakers, producers and actors from all over the world, without distinction of ethnicity, religion or nationality. Along the way, the festival has given voice to discomfiting auteurs, neglected film industries and directors who are oppressed and in exile, while avoiding political or ideological exploitation,” wrote the festival’s management. “This was the case in 2007 when the festival dedicated the Open Doors section to the Mashrek countries (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Egypt), with the 2006 Pardi di domani retrospective ‘East of the Mediterranean’ or with the focus in 2013 on Syrian films, produced despite incredibly difficult conditions. For us, these principles of artistic liberty are a creed that cannot be renounced.”

The six Israeli films to have a “rough cut” version screened at the festival as part of the “First Look on Israeli Cinema” program are: A Quiet Heart (Lev Shaket) by Eitan Anner, produced by Gal Greenspan (GreenProductions) ; Ewa by Haim Tabakman, produced by David Silber (Metro Communication) and Ronen Ben Tal (Plan B); Hope (Amal) by Miya Hatav, produced by Elad Peleg and Haggai Arad (Daroma Productions); Our Father (Avinu) by Meni Yaesh, produced by Marek Rozenbaum (Transfax Films Production); Sand Storm (Sufat Chol) by Elite Texer, produced by Haim Mecklberg and Estee Mecklberg (2-Team Productions); and The 90 Minute War (Milhemet 90 Hadakot) by Eyal Halfon, produced by Assaf Amir (Norma Productions) and Steve Hudson (Gringo Films GmbH).

The films were chosen by the festival organizers from 11 projects submitted by the Israel Film Fund, though the films were also supported by other Israeli film funds too.

A jury composed of three industry professionals will choose the best film in the First Look program and award it with an in-kind prize for post-production services worth 60,000 euros, sponsored by Rotor Film, and with an in-kind prize for advertising services worth 5,500 euros offered by Le Film Français.

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