Screening Ban of Pro-Palestinian Film Casts Shadow Over Spain's Goya Awards

Fotogramas Gaza-Publicity Still-H 2019
El Retorno Producciones

The Cardinal of Madrid cancelled a planned screening of a Goya-nominated short film that has received support from the pro-Palestinian BDS group.

The documentary shorts category rarely grabs headlines at awards show, but the night before Spain's equivalent of the Oscars, the Goyas, everyone is talking about an 18-minute film about life in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza has become the center of a controversy after a planned screening of the film in Madrid on Friday was canceled, with critics accusing the film of anti-Semitism and the filmmakers making claims of threats and censorship.

The pro-Palestine activist group BDS, which provided promotional support for the pic, organized the screening. BDS, whose initials stand for "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions," has called for the global community to cut cultural ties with Israel in protest of the country's treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the the occupied territories.

BDS has been in industry news in recent months over its support for different cultural boycotts of Israel, including the annual pan-European song competition Eurovision, slated to take place in Tel Aviv in May.

On the eve of the Goyas, BDS had organized a screening of the short film in a pastoral center in Madrid. But the center put out a statement midday on Friday saying it had been ordered by the Cardinal of Madrid to cancel the screening. Representatives for the office of the Archdiocese of Madrid confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter they had asked the center not to show the film, but declined to comment further.

According to Cecilia Sanchez of El Retorno Producciones, the producer of Gaza and its sister feature-length documentary Gas the Arabs: The Other Side of the Promised Land — which also received promotional support from BDS — the short film aims to offer an on-the-ground human portrait of suffering in the Gaza Strip.

“Since the beginning, as we’ve been trying to get the film premiered, things like what happened yesterday have been happening,” Sanchez said, referring to the cancelled screening.

Gaza is billed as one-third of “an audiovisual triptych” that also includes a 56-minute version adapted for television and the 70-minute feature-length documentary Gas the Arabs, which premiered on limited release in Spanish cinemas last April through #ConUnPack Distribucion, where it sold just under 600 tickets. The TV version premiered across Latin America on Telesur.

Both Sanchez and Julio Perez del Campo, co-director of the Gaza triptych with Carlos Bover Martinez, claimed in interviews Friday that their work has been subject to “threats” and “censorship” that have led to festivals pulling the short film from their lineups, theaters declining to screen the feature and pressure on the Spanish Film Academy to reconsider the Goya nomination.

“BDS and other [pro-Palestine] organizations have supported the promotion of the documentary,” especially helping to push online views of the film, said Perez del Campo. “What’s more, we are openly in favor of BDS as a strategy in the fight against the violation of human rights in Palestine.”

Elias Cohen, Secretary General of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, on Friday said that he had not heard about the film Gaza until he saw information about the Madrid screening put out by BDS, an organization he said “seeks to delegitimize Israel and Israelis.”

Cohen placed the pic in the context of what he called an established “anti-Israel sentiment” in the Spanish film industry. “The organizers [of the Goyas], the actors, the producers, the directors have a long anti-Israel curriculum,” he said. “They have denounced Israel over and over again. They have promoted and starred in videos denouncing Israel.”

In perhaps the most memorable instance, in 2015 dozens of Spanish film professionals, including Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Pedro Almodovar, signed an open letter denouncing Israel’s incursion into Gaza and calling Israel’s actions at the time “genocide.” They faced backlash in Hollywood, and Cruz and Bardem both later released statements clarifying their position as a call for peace.

Cruz and Bardem are both nominated for Goyas this year in the best actress and actor categories, respectively, for their work in Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows, a Spanish co-production. Cruz is expected to attend Saturday’s ceremony.

Gaza co-director Perez del Campo was one of dozens of international artists and film professionals to sign an open letter published in The Guardian newspaper in September calling for a boycott of the annual Eurovision competition that is scheduled to take place this year in Israel, a boycott BDS backs.

On Tuesday, that movement heated up with a new letter in The Guardian signed by dozens of British artists that called on the BBC to fulfill “its charter to champion freedom of expression” and “press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against that freedom are not being committed.”

Filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh; actress Julie Christie; musicians Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters; author Yann Martel; and designer Vivienne Westwood were among the artists to sign Tuesday’s letter.

Waters had previously promoted the Spanish short film Gaza on Facebook in December by sharing a letter written to him by a representative of the BDS movement in Spain along with a YouTube link to the Goya-nominated documentary.