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Ebert and Fonda on the Film Festival “Protest” nee Boycott

Roger Ebert:

Try putting the shoe on the other foot. What if, this time next year, TIFF’s City-to-City program featured new films from Los Angeles? And these films starred or were directed by Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortenson, Julie Christie and Danny Glover?

Surely there would be protests against this decision. Consider the U.S. record of militarism. Our economic mistreatment of smaller economies. Our deplorable record on environmental pollution. Our many states with death penalties — one of them, Texas, executing more people than the rest of the free world combined. Since Belafonte, Fonda, Mortenson, Christie and Klein live in America, surely they are culpable? And surely they should be boycotted? And since the U.S. is the most active supporter of Israel in the world, surely they would protest against themselves?

Of course not. They would expect to be judged as individuals, as artists, not simply as Americans. Their protest at TIFF is opportunistic, knee-jerk and careless. It allows its participants, themselves artists, to grandstand at a cost to other artists.

Jane Fonda:

Last week, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, explained to me the meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuva”– to fix things you have done incorrectly, not just by never doing them again but by “coming with a sincere heart. Words that come from the heart enter the heart.”

Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city “built on destroyed Palestinian villages,” for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas’s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza.

The Israeli-Palestinian story cannot be reduced to a simplistic aggressor-victim relationship. In order to fully understand this, one must be willing to come together with an open heart and really hear the narratives of both sides. One narrative sees 1948 as the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land. Another sees it as the birth of a nation. Conceivably it was both. Neither narrative can be erased, both must be heard.

14 Comments

  1. Tom Morrissey

    9/16/2009 at 7:09 am

    Ebert’s trying to saddle us with Naomi Klein, but she lives in Canada, thank you very much.

  2. Tom Morrissey

    9/16/2009 at 7:12 am

    ….And Julie Christie lives in Wales. Whew.

  3. Buberzionist

    9/16/2009 at 10:57 am

    Jane Fonda didn’t ask the anti-Tel-Aviv petition organizers to remove her name from the list of the petition signees. Her statement criticizing aspects of the petition is welcome but for me it’s insufficient.

    Fonda’s explanation of why she signed it in the first place includes the claim that “I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough.” Someone online asked what sort of letter Jane Fonda thought she was signing. This person wondered if Jane Fonda reads her contracts with so little care.

    Jane Fonda is in her 70s. Her acting career is basically over. If you visit her website you see that it’s mostly having dinner parties with Rod Stewart, and so on.

    So she wants to smooth over ruffled feathers without retracting the substance of what she signed. Retracting it would be asking the organizers of the petition to remove her name.

  4. xisnotx

    9/17/2009 at 1:31 am

    TM: did you see this — Ebert added it today:

    I’m writing this the day after first posting this entry. I now regret it. The point I make about artists is perfectly valid but I realize I wasn’t prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival’s decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to “re-brand” Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this. It was naive for the plan’s supporters to believe it would have the effect they hoped for. The original entry remains below. The first 50 or so comments were posted before these regrets.

  5. themiddle

    9/17/2009 at 2:07 am

    I did not see that, but he is wrong! The festival has openly and clearly denied ANY link or any compensation or any pressure from insiders or outsiders. They have explicitly stated that they came to choose Tel Aviv independently.

    It was neither a “goodwill gesture” nor part of a “deliberate plan to ‘re-brand’ Israel.

    I suspect that some of the “protest” organizers “educated” Mr. Ebert, and I’ll bet he hadn’t seen the clear denials by the Festival organizers.

  6. xisnotx

    9/17/2009 at 2:11 am

    TM, have a look at the comments on Ebert’s piece. He replies to some of the commenters, so you could try to make your case there & see how he reacts. I think he added that paragraph after stuff people wrote in the comments.

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/09/tiff_8_the_destructive_grandst.html

  7. themiddle

    9/17/2009 at 2:16 am

    No, I like to keep my identity to myself. If somebody else would like to direct Ebert here or at least to these two links, it might enlighten him a bit:

    From NowToronto:

    “It’s important to note,’’ he says “that the [Tel Aviv Spotlight] was independantly [sic] conceived and curated. Entirely. We were looking for a place on the planet where there was new work happening. I was interested in bringing the culture of the city to Toronto to spark debate. There was no influence from any outside sources.’’

    Does that include cash inducements, I ask? “The only financial element is the Israel Film Fund which funds filmakers travelling to festivals. And that’s all there is.’’

    And from the Cameron Bailey Open Letter on the TIFF website:

    As the programmer of City To City, I was attracted to Tel Aviv as our inaugural city because the films being made there explore and critique the city from many different perspectives. Furthermore, the City to City series was conceived and curated entirely independently. There was no pressure from any outside source. Contrary to rumours or mistaken media reports, this focus is a product only of TIFF’s programming decisions. We value that independence and would never compromise it.

    The goal of City to City is to take a closer look at global cities through a cinematic lens, especially cities where film contributes to or chronicles social change in compelling ways. We believe that the 10 films in our inaugural programme do just that. We encourage everyone to see the films, engage in debate and draw their own conclusions.

    There is NO EVIDENCE whatsoever, and complete and entire denials by Cameron Bailey, that there was any form of collusion here between Israel and the Festival. There is far more evidence (see one, two and three) that Palestine House is behind this campaign against the Festival and that at least one former adviser to the PLO is involved with this campaign against the Festival.

  8. xisnotx

    9/17/2009 at 2:27 am

    “No, I like to keep my identity to myself.”

    ?

    you can post under any moniker you like there.

  9. themiddle

    9/17/2009 at 2:30 am

    IPs are the issue, not monikers. And no, I don’t have a proxy and don’t feel like getting one.

    Ebert isn’t God and I’m not going to chase him down. I quoted him because what he wrote made very good sense. He seems to have been misinformed by someone about a supposed conspiracy that Cameron Bailey and TIFF have denied publicly.

    He can find the information here, in the comment above, but it won’t be me who extends the invitation.

  10. xisnotx

    9/17/2009 at 2:56 am

    a simple way to hide your IP: http://anonymouse.org/anonwww.html

    Ebert may not be God, but he’s one of the better-known film critics. he’s someone who’s gonna be familiar w/the politics of film festivals & the selection process, so I find it interesting he concludes: “The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this.”

  11. Long Live the King

    9/17/2009 at 3:11 am

    Ebert relies on what he was told after he wrote his article. He should talk to the TIFF organizers.

  12. themiddle

    9/17/2009 at 3:14 am

    Nope, somebody else is going to have to tell Ebert that he’s been re-educated by the wrong people.

  13. xisnotx

    9/17/2009 at 3:34 am

    Ebert’s seen the statements from the TIFF organizers, they were posted in his comments.

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