Edinburgh fest declines grant after protests

Ken Loach speaks out against Israeli Embassy donation

LONDON -- It is unusual for organizers of any long-running international movie festival to find themselves immersed in controversy before anyone has seen anything -- but that is just what Edinburgh International Film Festival organizers are mulling Thursday.

The EIFF booked Tel Aviv University graduate Tali Shalom Ezer's "Surrogate" into this year's lineup and took receipt of £300 ($470) from the Israeli Embassy towards the costs of getting her to the Scottish capital to support the film.

But after protests from many areas of the filmmaking community, and most notably veteran British director Ken Loach who is an oft outspoken opponent of Israel's policies, the festival returned the cash.

EIFF managing director Ginnie Atkinson said: "The Edinburgh International Film Festival is well known for bringing together people from all over the world, regardless of race or religion, to screen and appreciate films for their own sake and we look forward to continuing this important mission.

Bad move it seems as prominent industry-ites such as Jeremy Isaacs, the former Channel Four chief and other Jewish organizations called the festival's move a form of censorship.

"It must be good for cinemagoers at an international film festival to see films by Jews, Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, to the benefit of all," Isaacs said in a report in the London Times. "I have admired the Edinburgh International Film Festival for many years and would like to think that this appalling decision will be rescinded."

Loach had called for anyone who might go to the festival and his filmmaking peers, "to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away," in national newspaper reports.

An EIFF insider said the feeling had been that Loach was merely the highest profile objector, having been at this year's Festival de Cannes with Competition entry, "Looking For Eric" and quizzed there when the controversy gathered momentum.

For it's part, the festival is not removing the movie from its lineup and says it will pay to fund Shalom Ezer's travel to Edinburgh out of its own budget.

It will give the audiences a chance to see the movie, which is billed as a romance set in a sex-therapy clinic, and makes no reference to war or politics.

"It's not nor ever has been a political festival in any way," said one regular attendee. "They really are between a rock and a hard place on this."

So while controversial films programmed for lineups often lead to acres of news print after unspooling or the filmmakers or talent sometimes land themselves in hot water, for Edinburgh organizers it's started before it's begun.

It is unfortunate timing for the shindig, which is going all out on the glamour quotient, expecting a myriad of talent to get the flashbulbs popping with Claire Danes, Emily Blunt and Kate Winslet on the list.

EIFF chief Ginnie Atkinson and artistic director Hannah McGill said Alan Cumming, Alfonso Cuaron, Andrea Arnold, Anthony Dod Mantle, Bill Forsyth, Brenda Blethyn, Darren Aronofsky, Ewen Bremner, Ian Hart, Jaime Winstone, Paddy Considine, Robin Wright-Penn, Roger Corman, Sam Mendes and Shane Meadows are all expected during the Scottish shindig which runs June 17 through 28.

The festival is also expecting new faces to the event with Carlos Cuaron, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Guy Pearce, Hugh Dancy, Jesse Eisenberg, Joe Dante, John Krasinski, Kathryn Bigelow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maya Rudolph, Meera Syal, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Miller, Rose Byrne, Sharmila Tagore, William H. Macy and Yolande Moreau clutching invites.