Filmmaker pulls out of Toronto festival to protest focus on TA

"This isn't the right year to celebrate Brand Israel," John Greyson writes to festival organizers.

John Greyson 88 (photo credit: )
John Greyson 88
(photo credit: )
Canadian filmmaker John Greyson withdrew his documentary, Covered, from the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, protesting the festival's programming highlighting Tel Aviv. From September 10 to 19, the festival will screen 335 films from 64 countries. The focus on Tel Aviv is meant to celebrate the city's centennial. "This feel[s] like a propaganda campaign," Greyson argued. "This isn't the right year to celebrate Brand Israel or to demonstrate an ostrich-like indifference to the realities (cinematic and otherwise) of the region...," he wrote in a letter to the festival's organizers. Greyson said that the festival had ignored the economic boycott campaign against Israel and consequentially, "has emphatically taken sides - and in the process, forced every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the occupation to cross a type of picket line." Greyson argued for the existence of "an Israeli apartheid," writing, "Your TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival] program book may describe Tel Aviv as a 'vibrant, young city... of beaches, cafes and cultural ferment... that celebrates its diversity,' but it's also been called [by Canadian director Naomi Klein] 'a kind of alter-Gaza, the smiling face of Israeli apartheid.'" Festival co-director Cameron Bailey was disappointed by Greyson's withdrawal but reaffirmed the purpose of the film festival. "We designed this series to encourage debate, to start a conversation, to get people to talk about the city of Tel Aviv and their filmmakers," he said. "Any attempt to close off or limit the debate is to be regretted. We're about complete freedom of expression." While Greyson clearly states that he is not against the chosen films or filmmakers, he is against the "smug business-as-usual aura" surrounding Tel Aviv. Greyson's 15-minute film, Covered, focuses on the organizers and supporters of the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, which was canceled due to violence. He concluded his letter to the festival organizers by saying, "To stand in judgment of these ostriches before a TIFF audience, but to say nothing about this Tel Aviv spotlight - finally, I realized that that was a brand I couldn't stomach." The Israeli Film Fund and Aryeh Mekel of the Foreign Ministry's Culture Department could not be reached for comment by press time.