Israeli Film Festival in London Cancels "Women Only" Screening

Courtesy of Burberry

The ultra-orthodox director of 'Gift of Fire' had insisted on barring men from watching her film.

The public screening of an Israeli drama at a Jewish community center in London has been canceled following a dispute over proposals to ban men from watching the film.

Gift of Fire was due to be shown Friday at the JW3 center as part of the London Film and TV festival, Seret, but has been called off after fears that its stipulation as a “women only” screening would break U.K. equality laws.

A spokesperson for the festival told The Hollywood Reporter that the gender-based demands had come at the request of the film’s director, Rechi Elias, an ultra-orthodox member of the Charedi community in Israel.

“Her film can only be shown to women as the film features women singing, which according to her religious beliefs, cannot be seen by men,” she said.

Gift of Fire was originally due to be shown at a branch of the Odeon cinema chain, but moved to JW3 after management said they wouldn’t enforce the director’s wishes to prevent men from watching the film. While the JW3 community center was planning to keep the stipulation, following a complaint and legal advice over offering public services to one group and not another, its screening was also scrapped.

“Because we are unable to offer screenings for male or mixed audiences, we are unable to show it as a public screening,” the spokesperson added.

However, the festival is now planning to show Gift of Fire at a private invite-only screening, in order to “maintain the director’s wish that this is a film that can only be seen by women.”

Aside from efforts by director Elias to enforce a semi-boycott on her own film, a group of U.K. directors have been pushing for a sanction of the Seret festival in its entirety. 

In an open letter to The Guardian earlier this month, filmmakers including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky called on the Odeon and Curzon cinema chains, as well as BAFTA, to cancel screenings, saying that the festival was being promoted and financially supported by the Israeli state.

“By hosting it, these cinemas are ignoring the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel until Israel abides by international law and ends its illegal displacement of Palestinians, discrimination against them and occupation of their land,” the letter said, adding that with the festival being co-sponsored by the Israeli embassy, there was a direct link between the program and the Israeli government policies.

“By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people,” it said. “Such collaboration and co-operation is unacceptable. It normalizes, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.”

Jewish and Israeli cultural events — especially those supported financially in some way by the Israeli state — have become a major source of debate in the U.K. Last year, London’s Tricycle Theater canceled plans to screen films as part of the Jewish Film Festival over its sponsorship by the embassy. The decision — which was eventually reversed — was made in August in the midst of Israel’s invasion of Gaza that resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 people.