This year’s Israeli Film Festival in Australia deserves a lot more attention than in most years. But before saying anything I need to disclose that in 2013 I had a serious clash with the Israeli Film Festival organisers over the way in which the financial powers that be overruled the Israeli artist directors and pulled the film Inch’allah mid-festival owing to political pressure (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment…). So what makes this festival more special? This is the fourth year in which Richard Moore has been festival director. Moore’s integrity leaves something to be desired. Back in 2009 when he was the Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival Moore was happy to accept the kudos for standing up to Ken Loach and not pulling Loach’s film at the latter’s request. Loach had objected to the Israeli Embassy sponsorship of the festival. Moore made it all sound as if it was all a matter of integrity and impartiality, failing to disclose that his own son had just completed his three-year service in the IDF, a period during which the Israeli Defence Force was involved in operation against Gaza. (Loach made much of Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008-09, Cast Lead).
But lack of integrity or not, Richard Moore clearly loves films and is presenting a decent choice this year. The choice includes Ajami, a film he chose in 2009 for MIFF. This crime drama is a very political story which presents life in the impoverished Jaffa neighbourhood of Ajami where Jews and Palestinians live and work side by side. The film was Israel’s nomination for the Academy Awards held in 2010. The Film Palestinian co-director, Scandar Copti stirred a fair bit of controversy at the time. Haaretz reported:
“’I am not Israel’s national team and do not represent her,’ Copti reportedly said. ‘It is an extremely technical thing and that’s how it works at the Oscars – it says “Israel” because that’s where the money comes from.’
“He added that the film, which is co-directed by Copti and Israeli director Yaron Shani, features a mixed cast.
“’There’s a Palestinian director, an Israeli director, Palestinian actors and Israeli actors. The film technically represents Israel, but I don’t represent Israel. I cannot represent a country that does not represent me,’ he said, according to Army Radio.” http://www.haaretz.com/news/ajami-c….
While the film received government funding, that funding wasn’t part of the Brand Israel project but government funding which is available for citizens of the country whose application for a grant is successful. To the best of my understanding, that would allow those people who subscribe to the BDS guidelines to take advantage of it being currently freely available on SBS on Demand (http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/video/19562051826/Ajami).
Those people who don’t subscribe to any boycott can check out the full program at: http://www.aice.com.au/iff-film-2017.php . I may preview some films but I have to give a special mention to the two starring the late great Ronit Elkabetz: Jaffa and Late Marriage. [The political outlook of Jaffa may put off some, if not most, of the Israel-first crowd.]
There is one great Aussie film on the program: Charles Chauvel’s 1940 classic 40,000 horsemen. It IS a great film but I’m sure I won’t be the only one who objects to the way it is presented. Read what the Australian Jewish News says: “The festival is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Beersheva by screening the 1940 Australian film 40,000 Horsemen starring Chips Rafferty.
Liberated? I doubt that too many of the Palestinian and Bedouin residents of the town they called Bi’ir as-Sab and the Brits called Beersheba would have regarded the British led Australians as liberators. They would have regarded the Aussies even less of liberators had they known what the impact of the Balfour declaration, issued four days later, would be on them and their descendants.
But that is unlikely to be the controversial part of the Festival. This is: “Its a very real treat this year to welcome two very special guests. Brigadier General Gal Hirsch is one of the most experienced in the IDF in the areas of Counter Terrorism, Counter Insurgency and Guerilla Warfare. He spearheaded Israel’s fight against terror for 34 years in all fronts as a commander of several elite units and as a field officer. Gal will be introducing the documentary War Story about his life, talking about his book Defensive Shield and appearing at various events and schools in the community.” Oh what a lovely description for a first-class war criminal, (even by Israeli standards) and a global mercenary whose financial success has, fortunately, not been matched, by military success. This a person who when his appointment as Chief Commissioner of Police was announced it sparked such an outcry that the appointment was rescinded as him not being a suitable person. And this is the person being unleashed on Australian high school students? Where does one start: his role in the construction of the Separation Barrier AKA Apartheid Wall? Lebanon war 2006? Or the Georgia/Russian war? I could, and probably would have to, write a lot more about him.