Toronto protesters plan press conference

Palestinian filmmakers weigh on on controversy

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TORONTO -- The filmmaker-led protest over the Toronto International Film Festival's Tel Aviv spotlight is to include a press conference Sept. 10, on the festival's opening day.

A spokesman for about 50 filmmakers, academics and activists, including Jane Fonda and Danny Glover, who last week signed an open letter criticizing Toronto for selecting Tel Aviv for its inaugural city-to-city sidebar said details on the presser are being worked out.

Also this week, Palestinian filmmakers are weighing in on the growing cultural boycott of the Toronto festival.

Annemarie Jacir, the director of "Salt of This Sea," Palestine's 2008 entry into the Academy Award's best foreign-language competition, said the Israeli film spotlight will ignore a host of fellow Palestinian filmmakers who live in Tel Aviv and "even more importantly those who are indigenous to that specific area and whose families were exiled and ethnically cleansed from Jaffa/Tel Aviv."

Toronto has drawn heat for screening a host of films by Israeli filmmakers as part of its Tel Aviv sidebar, including Etyan Fox's "The Bubble" and Uri Zohar's "Big Eyes," and scheduling titles by Palestinian filmmakers elsewhere in the festival program.

Jacir said the Toronto festival is being used by the Israeli government as part of its "Brand Israel" campaign "to ignore and erase the reality of Israel's brutal military occupation and gross human rights violations." Palestinian filmmakers to have joined the artist protest include Hany Abu-Assad, Yousry Nasrallah and Elia Sulieman.

And the Toronto Palestine Film Festival, which kicks off on Sept. 26, issued a statement of support for the TIFF protest, and pointed to incessant barriers placed by Israeli authorities in the way of Palestinians making films.

"We hope those weighing in on the (TIFF) protest will remember the extreme hardships Palestinian filmmakers and artists continue to endure in making and showcasing their work as a result of the occupation of their land," the rival Toronto festival said.

The artist-led protest was sparked by Canadian filmmaker John Greyson's choosing to withdraw his short film from TIFF over its Tel Aviv spotlight. Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey earlier expressed disappointment over the festival boycott by Greyson, 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.

But Bailey also defended the festival curatorial independence: "There was no pressure from any outside source. Contrary to rumors or mistaken media reports, this focus is a product only of TIFF's programming decisions."

The Toronto Jewish community, meanwhile, has been urged to attend the Tel Aviv spotlight at the Toronto festival to show support.

"Together we can ensure that our community continues our unwavering support for Israel," David Koschitzky, chairman of the UJA Federation of Toronto, said in an e-mail to members of the Toronto Jewish community.

The Toronto International Film Festival gets under way Thursday and runs to Sept. 19.