TIFF defends Tel Aviv program again

'Heliopolis' pulled from event by Egyptian producer

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TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival has been forced to defend its controversial Tel Aviv spotlight yet again as more filmmakers pull their titles from the festival lineup.

"The Toronto International Film Festival stands by our choice of Tel Aviv as the inaugural focus for the City to City program and we welcome the discussion that is being prompted by our series," festival co-directors Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey said in a new statement on the TIFF website.

The latest justification came as Egyptian producer Sherif Mandour withdrew "Heliopolis" from the TIFF lineup, despite the film's director, Ahmad Abdalla, wanting his debut feature to remain in the festival.

"My point of view is not to participate in anything celebrating Israel, especially Tel Aviv. I'm not accusing TIFF of anything, but it was the wrong decision, really, especially this year, at this time," Mandour told the Toronto Star newspaper on Thursday.

"Heliopolis," which portrays a group of young people in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, will now go on to a planned screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The Toronto festival in its online statement expressed regret at the latest withdrawal over the Tel Aviv spotlight.

"While director Ahmad Abdalla has voiced his opposition to the program, he is a champion of ensuring that filmmakers from the Arab world continue to have a voice at our Festival," the festival's top execs said.

"The producers, however, have the legal authority to withdraw the film," Handling and Bailey added.

A second Egyptian film, "The Traveller," will also not screen at TIFF at the request of its producers.

The artist-led protest in Toronto over the Israeli film showcase was sparked on August 28 when Toronto filmmaker John Greyson withdrew his short film "Covered" from the festival because of the Tel Aviv sidebar.