TIFF Protest: Jane Fonda apologises over Toronto petition 15Sep09 September 16, 2009

by Ben Child – The Guardian – 15 September 2009

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda has apologised for signing a petition decrying the decision by organisers of the Toronto film festival to showcase films from the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv.

In a post on the Huffington Post blog yesterday, Fonda said she had signed the letter, which has been fiercely criticised by Hollywood luminaries such as Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman and Sacha Baron Cohen, “without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue”.

She continued: “In the hyper-sensitised reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.”

However Fonda pointed out that her decision had been based on anger over the suspicion that Toronto was being used by the Israeli government to boost its newly launched campaign to “rebrand” the country. “Arye Mekel, the Israeli foreign ministry’s director general for cultural affairs, has said that artists and writers must be enlisted in order to ‘show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war’,” she said. “The protesters felt it was wrong for the much-respected festival to be used in this manner.”

The original protest letter was written by a group of Toronto-based film-makers angered by the festival’s decision to put Tel Aviv at the centre of its inaugural City to City programme. It was then signed by more than 1,500 supporters, including director Guy Maddin, actor Viggo Mortensen, author Naomi Klein and musician David Byrne.

Yesterday the film-makers held a press conference refuting claims they advocated a boycott of the festival over the Tel Aviv focus. Speaking alongside Toronto film-maker John Greyson and Palestinian-Israeli director Elia Sulieman, among others, proponent Elle Flanders said the letter was not targeted at Israeli film-makers themselves, “but rather the frame”.

She said: “Our campaign was meant to begin the dialogue that TIFF missed out on – one that refuses the Israeli government’s attempt to shift attention away from the conflict that it maintains and worsens daily.”

Israeli film-maker Samuel Maoz, whose film Lebanon won the Golden Lion at Venice at the weekend, has been among the most vocal critics of Fonda’s decision. He told the Observer: “The point of a film like mine is to open a dialogue, to get people talking to each other about important issues. This is something you can’t do if films are boycotted. It makes no sense to boycott art. Maybe I wouldn’t have won if Jane Fonda was on the jury, but she wasn’t.”

The Toronto film festival runs until Saturday.

LINK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/sep/15/jane-fonda-toronto-festival

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