The Toronto Film Festival's addition of a "City to City" sidebar has set off a political storm in advance of the festival's opening next week. The controversy centers on the festival's selection of Tel Aviv as the first city to be showcased. On Monday, Indiewire.com, which focuses on independent filmmakers, reported that Canadian filmmaker John Greyson had withdrawn his documentary, Covered, from the festival, claiming that the Tel Aviv sidebar was little more than an effort to promote Israeli propaganda. Then on Thursday, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported that Greyson's decision had been endorsed by more than 50 prominent filmmakers, artists, and writers, including Ken Loach, Jane Fonda, Alice Walker, Danny Glover, Eve Ensler, and David Byrne. Surprisingly, the protesters include a number of Israeli filmmakers as well as Palestinian-Israeli director, Elia Suleiman, who has a film competing in this year's festival, The Time that Remains. Their letter says in part "We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However ... we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of ... an apartheid regime." In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, TIFF director Piers Handling said, "If there are issues that have been raised by these [Israeli] films, that's exactly what the festival should be about -- to show work that's challenging, work that raises questions, work that's contemporary, work that deals with today's issues." The City to City sidebar is scheduled to open, ironically enough, on September 11.

04/09/2009