Filmmakers weigh in on Toronto Israel flap

Tel Aviv spotlight sparked controversy, protests

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TORONTO -- Now it's getting personal. Canadian filmmaker John Greyson's decision to pull his short film from the Toronto International Film Festival has provoked a growing feud among Canadian filmmakers.

Veteran Canadian documentary maker Simcha Jacobovici, who was born in Israel, said Greyson should test his sympathy for the Palestinians by screening his short film about the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival in Tel Aviv and on the West Bank.

"He will be invited to screen the film at the local (Tel Aviv) cinematheque. He can then walk around with the same sign down the streets of Palestinian Ramallah. He should document the experience on video and then enter it into next year's TIFF -- posthumously," Jacobovici said.

Veteran Canadian film producer Robert Lantos ("Sunshine," "Being Julia") was equally dismissive Thursday of Greyson's protest as he defended the Toronto festival's decision to spotlight Tel Aviv and Israeli filmmakers.

"I have no doubt that both the festival and its patrons will survive John Greyson's boycott and will do just fine without seeing his short documentary, 'Covered,' " he said. Lantos argued that the Toronto festival has not known "political censorship" since Ontario film censors in 1978 attempted to cut scenes from his opening night film "In Praise of Older Women."

"Since then, the (Toronto) festival has been free from the pressure of those whose fascist agenda is to impose their views on others, stifle the voices they don't like and interfere with people's right to see whatever they wish and make up their own minds. Until now," he argued.

Lantos pointed to the irony of Greyson's gay-friendly film possibly being freely screened in Israel, a country the Canadian filmmaker condemned.

"Then again, perhaps he (Greyson) is just an opportunist eagerly leaping on the 'Israel apartheid' bandwagon in order to garner more attention for his film than it would have ever received had it played at the festival," the veteran producer added.

Jacobovici added that he won't be able to attend the Toronto festival as he'll be in Israel, and invited Greyson to join him for a tour.

"Of course Israel, like Canada, is not a perfect society. But the question is, why does my fellow Canadian documentarian choose to so publicly align himself with forces of apartheid, totalitarianism and intolerance against the only democracy in the area?" he questioned.

Greyson and other protesters of the Tel Aviv spotlight insist it will serve to polish Israel's international image while it is locked in a civil conflict with the Palestinians.

Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey last week expressed disappointment over the festival boycott over the Tel Aviv spotlight, and insisted the sidebar was programmed independent of the Israeli government.

In an open letter posted on the Toronto festival Web site, Bailey defended the City to City focus he programmed. "We recognize that Tel Aviv is not a simple choice and that the city remains contested ground," he wrote.

The Toronto Jewish community also came out in support of the film festival Thursday as it tiptoed with its film program into a political minefield.

"We're very pleased that the Toronto International Film Festival is standing by its decision to spotlight Tel Aviv and we commend Cameron Bailey for that," Howard English, a spokesman for the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto said.