Doc filmmaker pulls out of TIFF in protest

Filmmaker John Greyson is taking his boycott of Israel to the Toronto International Film Festival.
August 31, 2009

Filmmaker John Greyson is taking his boycott of Israel to the Toronto International Film Festival.

Greyson, who withdrew his film Fig Trees from the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival in April, has written to Toronto festival organizers to take his short documentary Covered out of the September event’s Short Cuts Canada sidebar.

Greyson, who is also a film professor at Toronto’s York University, said the action was done in protest over TIFF’s inaugural City to City program because it spotlights Tel Aviv, not over the Israeli directors showing their work in Toronto.

In his letter Greyson complained the Tel Aviv sidebar does not include Palestinian artists or filmmakers.

His 15-minute Covered portrays organizers of the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival abandoning the event in the face of anti-gay violence.

‘The film focuses on the bravery of the organizers and their supporters and, equally, on the ostriches, on those who remained silent, who refused to speak out: most notoriously the Sarajevo International Film Festival and the Canadian ambassador in Sarajevo,’ Greyson said in a public Aug. 27 letter.

‘To stand in judgment of these ostriches before a TIFF audience, but then say nothing about this Tel Aviv spotlight – finally, I realized that that was a brand I couldn’t stomach,’ the filmmaker wrote.

Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey said he was ‘disappointed’ that Greyson had chosen to pull his film from the festival, precluding participation in encouraged debate.

‘We designed this series to… start a conversation, to get people to talk about the city of Tel Aviv, and their filmmakers,’ Bailey said.

‘Any attempt to close off or limit the debate is to be regretted. We’re about complete freedom of expression,’ he added.

The festival also programmed the Tel Aviv spotlight independent of the Israeli government. Only the Israel Film Fund, that country’s Telefilm equivalent, will help pay for the Israeli filmmakers’ traveling expenses to the festival.

The Israeli titles included in the inaugural City to City spotlight include Danny Lerner’s Kirot, Eytan Fox’s The Bubble and A History of Israeli Cinema, Part I and II, by Raphael Nadjari.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.