Festivals for the rest of us

The 12th International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv opens soon.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
It's unfortunate that just as Israel's busiest film festival season in years was getting underway, director Jean-Luc Godard, one of the guests of honor at the 12th International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv, announced at the last minute that he would not attend. Although director/actress Sarah Polley and director John Sayles, other guests of the festival, which runs through Saturday night, did arrive on schedule, Godard cancelled, "for reasons beyond my control." Festival organizers suspected, with some justification, that those reasons included calls by some Palestinians for him to boycott the event. These Palestinian groups, which have exerted pressure on other artists in the past (director Ken Loach, who was honored at the Haifa Film Festival a few years ago, also declined to attend for political reasons), reportedly sent Godard a letter saying that his attendance at the festival, at which he planned to host a master class for students, would make him an "accomplice to a crime." Godard did say, according to YNet, that he was canceling his "tour of Palestine" but did not offer details. I'd like to think that Godard pulled out because he needed emergency gallbladder surgery or for some such medical excuse, because it disappoints me to no end that this political provocateur reversed a decision he made due to pressure, and then didn't even come out and admit to his own reversal. Was he embarrassed that he had agreed to come in the first place? In his recent film, Notre Musique, which stars Israeli-French actress Sarah Adler, Godard examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a fairly nuanced (if not particularly coherent) fashion, with Adler's character interviewing Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in Hebrew (while he replies in Arabic). Adler plays the daughter of Holocaust survivors who lives in Tel Aviv and is writing an article for Ha'aretz at a writers' conference in Sarajevo. Clearly, Godard knows and thinks a great deal about the Middle East, so why he would withdraw as he did is a disturbing puzzle. In any case, I think that any boycott of Israel by filmmakers is wrongheaded, since the filmmaking community here has done more than nearly any other to publicize the plight of the Palestinians. The directors of the large film festivals here, Lia van Leer (Jerusalem) and Pnina Blayer (Haifa), have given young Palestinian filmmakers important public showcases, and have provided a forum to Israeli directors who oppose government policies. More dialogue has been generated at these festivals than any other forum I can think of. And we all know very well that Godard could have stood up onstage at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (or any other theater in Israel, for that matter), cursed Israel and received applause as well as boos. The cancellation makes him seem ridiculous, while attending the festival and speaking his mind would have been a far smarter step if he really had the Palestinian cause in mind. But the Student Festival, which presents cutting-edge movies by Israeli and international students, went on, stronger than ever. So, under far more trying circumstances, did the 5th annual Cinema of the South Festival at the Sderot Cinematheque, which also ran this past week. This year's festival focused on both Israeli and international movies with an emphasis on movies from the south of Israel and the Southern Hemisphere in general, as well as films by students in the film school at Sapir College. And next week, in a much more placid setting, the 23rd Israel Film Festival will be held in Los Angeles. Its opening attraction will be Avi Nesher's most recent film, The Secrets, the story of two Orthodox girls in a women's Bible college who befriend a mysterious older woman (Fanny Ardant). Nesher, who started out as a very successful young Israeli director (he made The Troupe (Ha Lahaka) in the seventies), moved to Los Angeles and made genre films, then returned to Israel four years ago to direct the popular Turn Left at the End of the World. Having an Israeli film by Nesher open a festival in Los Angeles seems like a natural progression, and is symbolic of the renaissance the Israeli film industry has undergone during the span of his career.