John Greyson to take film to Ramallah

Director sparked Toronto festival's Israeli sidebar protest

More Toronto coverage  

TORONTO -- Canadian filmmaker John Greyson is to show his films in Israel's occupied territories after he provoked a grassroots protest at the Toronto International Film Festival over its Tel Aviv spotlight.

Greyson told a Toronto press conference Monday that screening his films in Ramallah in 2010 should counter accusations that he'd face possible physical harm, and even death, if he showed his gay-themed films outside of Israel.

He added TIFF was wrong to showcase Israeli films so soon after that country's recent invasion of Gaza, which cost about 1,400 lives.

"I think for many of us Gaza represents a similar turning point to Soweto, a similar line in the sand," Greyson said, drawing parallels between Apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel.

Greyson's decision to withdraw his short film "Covered" from TIFF over its Israeli film sidebar led actors Jane Fonda and Danny Glover, British director Ken Loach and around 1,500 signatories to sign an open letter to the Toronto festival in protest over its Tel Aviv spotlight.

Organizers of the artist-led protest repeated Monday that TIFF was being used by the Israeli government to polish its international image while it is locked in a civil conflict with the Palestinians.

Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni in a satellite feed said TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey ignored a list of Palestinian and Israeli film titles that he personally handed him after a tour of Tel Aviv, and programmed instead state-sponsored Israeli filmmakers.

And Toronto-based filmmaker Elle Flanders ("Zero Degrees of Separation") insisted the artist-led protest will continue in the face of growing accusations of anti-semitism and censorship by supporters of the Tel Aviv spotlight.

"I'm here to tell you that we will not be intimidated. We are justice seekers," she said as the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a list of Hollywood supporters of the Israeli film showcase, led by CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Spyglass Entertainment president Jonathan Glickman, Jerry Seinfeld and Lenny Kravitz.

The stateside statement protested the "blacklisting of Israeli artists at TIFF" and said the Tel Aviv spotlight represented the best of Israel's "open, uncensored, artistic expression."

Cameron Bailey on Sunday night once again defended the Tel Aviv spotlight when introducing the opening film, Danny Lerner's "Kirot," at the Isabel Baeder Theatre in Toronto.

"There's been a constant back and forth," Bailey said of the growing protest and counter-protest over the City to City sidebar. "Sometimes it got a little crazy."

"But we had to be respectful of both sides, and get all the films screened and let the audiences decide," he said.

Also Monday, Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman urged the Tel Aviv spotlight protesters to shift their spotlight to oppressive Middle Eastern regimes beyond Israel.

"There are juntas, they brainwash and are co-producers of the loss of Palestine," Suleiman, who is presenting his latest film, "The Time That Remains," at TIFF.

The filmmaker said he faced withering criticism from the Arab press for not following Greyson and withdrawing his film from Toronto.

"I'm so far from being a cultural Robocop," he said.