How the Melbourne Film Festival embraces apartheid Israel

Back in 2009, film-maker Ken Loach withdrew his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival after it was revealed that the Israeli government offered financial support for the event.

This year there was supposedly no controversy despite the festival again taking funds from the Israeli government (the director, Richard Moore, is a Zionist whose son has served in the IDF).

And then something changed a few weeks ago, an issue that has thus far received no mainstream media coverage. Australian, Jewish academic Ned Curthoys has written an exclusive report for this site:

About a fortnight ago, some friends of the Palestinian people alerted the production company Human Film that the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival lists the state of Israel as a cultural partner and therefore official sponsor of the festival. Their award-winning Iraqi film Son of Babylon was due to screen on Wednesday the 28th of July and Friday the 30th of July.

On behalf of Human Film, the Director Mohamed Al-Daradji, the Producer Isabelle Stead and the Producer Atia Al-Daradji wrote on Sunday the 25th of July to the Executive Director of MIFF, Richard Moore, stressing that Son of Babylon is a Palestinian co-production and that as they, as filmmakers, are ”˜wholeheartedly against the Israeli governments’ actions against the Palestinian people and as such cannot screen our film at Melbourne IFF whilst there is Israeli government support involved’.

The signatories stressed that they are not against the Israeli people or Israeli filmmakers but ”˜against the Israeli government actions against Palestine’ and that they refused to have any association with the state of Israel until it respected the human rights of the Palestinian people. They repeated their request to withdraw the film.

[MIFF head] Richard Moore responded by agreeing to disagree on the political aspect of the matter and, complaining of the logistical impossibility of withdrawing the film on the eve of screening, informed the signatories that the Monday screening would be shown but that he is prepared to countenance financial compensation for the Wednesday the 28th screening.

Isabelle Stead, the main producer of SON OF BABYLON, writing on behalf of Human Film, responded that she really hoped that he, Richard Moore, had respected their wishes and withdrawn the film from the festival, entirely. This isn’t about politics, she wrote, this is about humanity.

She made the point that it had only just been brought to their attention that MIF festival was supported by the state of Israel, and that upon receiving this information, they acted as promptly as they could. Isabelle was surprised that Melbourne IFF had not informed filmmakers whom have a Palestinian element/connection to their film that the state of Israel are involved in funding the festival. She pointed out that the festival was informed in enough time to stop the screening – as in 2009 when Ken Loach withdrew his film on the eve of its screening. MIFF should not underestimate Human Film’s resolve to ensure that their film is not associated with the state of Israel as long as it continues its illegal crimes against humanity.

Richard Moore refused to acknowledge that he had any obligation to inform a Palestinian co-production about Israeli sponsorship, instead claiming that revocation of permission to withdraw the film and to take action against the festival if it does not withdraw the film was a ”˜divisive act’ that contravenes the film company’s ethos of breaking down cultural barriers.

Isabelle Stead repeated her willingness to reimburse the festival and repeated her point that the festival must hold some responsibility in not informing a Palestinian co-production that it was being supported by the state of Israel. She reminded Moore that in the 1980s Mr Rod Webb, The Sydney Film Festival Director, refused to accepted any sponsorship or screen films from apartheid South Africa. When Israel is no longer an apartheid state, she wrote, we will of course be proud to screen our films in conjunction with them. In the interim she would be happy to help Richard Moore find alternative sponsorship that is independent of Israel’s support for Melbourne IFF in the future.

She welcomed Moore’s allusion to their mission statement and pointed out it was still in full force and effect, since they were ”˜acting from a humanitarian stance’. She asked that Richard Moore respect their wishes not to screen Son of Babylon and wanted to be informed if the film had been screened at the festival.

Richard Moore then revealed his hand by declaring, against the common wisdom of Jimmy Carter and Desdmond Tutu, that the comparison of Israel with an apartheid state was ”˜odious’. He now claimed that Human Film had not taken the issue of compensation seriously, and, to rub salt into the wound, smugly talked of how much the patrons had enjoyed the screening and that he hoped the film scored well in audience awards.

Isabelle Stead now accused Richard Moore of petulance, and was clearly upset that he had disregarded the multiple requests of Human Film not to have any screenings of their film at the festival. Isabelle wrote that she had spoken to the producer of Looking for Eric – who informed her that they were not requested to pay the festival any monies for pulling the film in 2009. She reiterated that she had made a fair offer to reimburse the festival for the shipment costs along with any monies paid to their sales company to screen the film. She reiterated that any permissions granted to Melbourne IFF to screen SON OF BABYLON had been revoked.

Isabelle. in a later correspondence, suggested that she was disgusted with the behaviour of the festival towards Human Film, and very saddened that Moore couldn’t see past the politics to the real heart of the issue. Human Film would now prefer to offer the proceeds of the admissions for the screening of Son of Babylon to a charity of their choice.

The second screening of Son of Babylon on Wednesday went ahead without any signal that this was against the express wishes of Human Film. One can safely draw the conclusion that just as MIFF and Richard Moore failed in their ethical obligation to inform international film makers of Israeli sponsorship of the festival, they have also engaged in a conspiracy of silence to prevent you knowing about the principled ethical objections of Human Film to screen Son of Babylon.

The public can make up their own mind but audiences of the MIFF 2010 and the wider public have a right to know about the way in which Richard Moore himself is deliberately politicizing the festival.

Yesterday Crikey published the full email correspondence between MIFF and the film-makers.

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