Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Ken Loach Vs Israeli Film

...isn't a big fan of Israeli cinema - or at least of Israeli film-makers, at least - as most of us know. Last summer, he forced the Edinburgh International Film Festival to return a grant of £300 - yup, a measly three digit grant - received from the Israeli Embassy in London as part sponsorship for the screening of Tali Shalom's film, Surrogate (the funds were made up elsewhere); he then withdrew his film, Looking For Eric, from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the curators refused to act likewise in respect of $9.99, adapted from Etgar Keret's short stories.

And he was up there on the ramparts in Toronto, supporting a boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival because it had "become part of the Israeli propaganda machine". Busy man.

Loach is a talented, if at times somewhat erratic film-maker from the socialist realist tradition; Kes, and the television docu-drama Cathy Come Home are genuine classics, even if his output has become a tad predictable and clichéd of late.

But the energies he has devoted to promoting the cultural boycott of Eretz Yisrael are somewhat misguided, I fear. To be fair, he does argue that his efforts are intended at marginalising the Israeli government, rather than its artistes; in an open letter to Ms Shalom, he wrote that "To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected." But in practice, I'm not sure that he is able to distinguish the one from the other.

(Vanessa Redgrave, no cheerleader for Israel, sums up the contradictions in his approach quite lucidly here.)

But this is all old hat; why return to it now?

Because, according to ynetnews.com, Loach's distributor in Israel has decided to donate all the profits from his current film and the next to the distribution of Israeli films abroad. "I believe the way to fight the silencing – and there is no other way to define Loach's actions other then attempts to silence – is to ensure that the Israeli voice, the Israeli creativity that is so diverse and fascinating, be heard load and clear, in Israel and in the world," Nurit Shani, CEO of Lev Films announced last week, before the première screening of Loach's film at the Haifa International Film Festival. (gosh, all these international film festivals...)

Loach - and anyone else who really cares to know - should appreciate that the creative community is frequently critical of Israeli government policy; and, to its credit, the Israeli government does not overtly attempt to shut down this source of dissent, marginal and timid as some may argue that they are. Without even thinking very hard, I can list off any number of Israeli films that are critical - directly, or subtly - of the myopia that so often stifles this country: Etz Limon, The Syrian Bride, Beaufort, Waltz With Bashir, Walk on Water, James' Journey to Jerusalem...if Mr Loach had his way, none of these films ought to be enjoyed by a wider audience, because they are "supported" by the Israeli government - either directly through grants, as was the case with Surrogate, or indirectly through the Israeli Film Fund, which sponsors many of the critical (in every sense of the word) successes that come out of the country.

And that would be a shame. A diversity of voices is essential for genuine public discourse. Loach, through his heavy-handedness, will stifle this if he has his way.

ps: I haven't included Golden Lion of Venice-winning Lebanon or Ajami, because I haven't gotten round to watching either yet. But I hear good things about both...

pps: Trailer for Ajami. I'm sorry it's in Hebrew and Arabic, without subtitles: I really need to get to work...the blurb reads: Different People: Different Worlds: Meet: In One Place. I gather that it is about social tensions in Jaffa, the underdevelopled multi-ethnic adjunct to Tel Aviv. I'm probably doing the film a disservice with this bland description, mind. It was filmed largely with non-professional actors, residents of the city; it won a special mention at Cannes. Despite all this (lol) I am told that it is very, very good indeed.

ppps: On a related note, I recommend taking a look at the blog Occupied, concerned with life in Jaffa, in the shadows of the glittering metropolis that is Tel Aviv. Very committed and thought provoking.

Right, now I am off. Good day, all.


Adam E. said...

So Israel is not boycotting Loach for boycotting Toronto for not boycotting Israel? This is all beginning to get complicated. For an alternative take on the left-wing Israeli film, see: http://adamehad2.blogspot.com/2009/04/30page.html

Goy said...

As per your blog: interesting...a cynical friend commented after watching Waltz with Bashir that it was just an easy way for hypocritical left wingers to ease their consciences. I don't agree, but I see his point. Personally, I'm a bit leery of artistes consciously positioning themselves as left wing (or right-wing for that matter, although there are very few creatives whom define themselves thus); I'd rather they let their work speak for itself, one way or the other. The point is that ideas should be allowed to be expressed freely, to be argued over and to be judged on their merits alone; anything else is just preaching to the converted. Which is a fucking waste of everyone's time.

thebookmistress said...

I don't like to cry bigotry a lot, but the content is irrelevant to bigots like Loach. Israeli filmmakers exit and that is offensive enough to Loach. It's not about what the filmakers do or say.

(Just like it's not about what Israel does or says. Should Israel end the occupation? Sure. Will that make a bit of difference to Israel-haters? Nope.)

Goy said...

It won;t make a blind bit of difference to Israel haters, I agree: but it doesn't mean that "Israel" shouldn't begin to work towards this. If one gives one's enemies a stick to beat them with, it is a bit hard to complain that they are hitting below the belt.

Right. Enough of these confused clichés. I need sleep :-)

or said...

actually, loach and his partners (danny glover, jane fonde etc.) didn't call to boycott the festival cause it showed israeli films but because it was partly sponsored by the israeli foieign ministry. there is a world of difference. I suspect that loach will not have problem with nurit shani's idea.

Goy said...

um, the call to boycott Toronto was because Fonda et al objected to the spotlight on Tel Aviv, as opposed to sponsorship by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

To be fair though, Loach's individual stance concerning 'Surrogate' at Edinburgh, and '$9.99' at Melbourne were connected to MFA sponsorship. Mind you, I do think that the stance is somewhat troubling, nonetheless.

Goy said...

...and it seems that Mr Loach does mind, actually: