Canadian filmmaker John Greyson has pulled his short documentary Covered from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in protest over a part of the festival's programming focusing on Tel Aviv, Israel.
Greyson, whose films cover gay themes, says he's unhappy with the uncritical perspective of the festival's City-to-City program.
The director says his withdrawal is not a protest about the Israeli filmmakers or movies appearing in the festival.
Covered — which Greyson has made available online until the end of TIFF on Sept. 19 — examines the violent response to the opening of the first queer film festival in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In a letter to TIFF's organizers, Greyson refers to an interview Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin gave to Canadian Jewish News in which he described the TIFF spotlight as a culmination of his year-long Brand Israel campaign, which included ads on buses, radio and television.
Greyson goes on to list why he thinks a spotlight that focuses on just the positive aspects of Tel Aviv is wrong:
"This past year has also seen: the devastating Gaza massacre of eight months ago, resulting in over 1,000 civilian deaths; the election of a Prime Minister accused of war crimes; the aggressive extension of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands; the accelerated destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards; the viral growth of the totalitarian security wall; and the further enshrining of the check-point system," he writes.
Criticizes inclusion of 'state-funded features' only
The 49-year-old auteur questions why the Tel Aviv spotlight doesn't include Arab directors or underground Israeli filmmakers, only screening "big-budget Israeli state-funded features."
He also wonders "why is TIFF accepting and/or encouraging the support of the Israeli government and consulate … with filmmaker plane tickets, receptions, parties."
"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, or to pointedly ignore the international economic boycott campaign against Israel."
TIFF organizers have yet to comment on the pull-out.
Greyson is a highly-acclaimed filmmaker and video artist living in Toronto. He is also a professor at York University, where he teaches film and video theory and film production.
His previous films include 1993's Zero Patience, Lilies (1996) and most recently, Fig Trees — a kind of video opera about AIDS activism — which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, capturing the Teddy Award for best queer documentary.