Egyptian film withdraws from Toronto festival in protest

TORONTO - A controversy over the Toronto film festival's spotlight on Tel Aviv eclipsed huge praise for Egyptian filmmakers Tuesday after at least one Egyptian film was pulled from the lineup.
First-time feature director Ahmad Abdalla withdrew his film "Heliopolis" from the schedule to protest the presentation of 10 films on the Jewish metropolis for the festival's "City to City" program.
Ahmed Maher's "The Traveller" may also be pulled at its producer's request, said a festival spokeswoman.

Egyptian film withdraws from Toronto festival in protest
In an interview, festival co-director Cameron Bailey had lauded Egyptian filmmakers for "having a really strong year, asking tough questions of their society, really digging deep about what's going on there and telling good stories."
He had singled out both "Heliopolis" and "The Traveller," as well as Cairo-born pioneering filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah's "Scheherazade, Tell me a Story," for praise.
In a new trend, Egyptian films were winning over audiences at film festivals worldwide this year, offering highly artistic yet accessible films that transcend "the usual melodrama of Egyptian commercial cinema," he told AFP.
And several of the films were eagerly awaited in Toronto.
Just prior to the festival's start, however, some 50 intellectuals and filmmakers, including British director Ken Loach, accused North America's premiere film festival of "complicity with the Israeli propaganda machine" over its spotlight this year on Tel Aviv, given "the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program."
The program "ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories" after a "mass exiling of the Palestinian population" in 1948, they said in an open letter to festival organizers.
Monday, American actress Jane Fonda withdrew her support for the protest, saying she had not carefully read the letter and now calling it "unnecessarily inflammatory."
Other signatories included Canadian sociologist Naomi Klein and several Israeli filmmakers.
Producer Ivan Reitman, as well as Robert Lantos, David Cronenberg, actress Minnie Driver and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, meanwhile, accused the letter's signatories of "political censorship."
Tuesday, Bailey lamented the decision to withdraw "Heliopolis" as "unfortunate," noting that its director has championed the screening of Arab films in Toronto.
He said also the first screening of "The Traveller" was cancelled "due to a legal dispute between its Italian producer and the Egyptian producer, the (Egyptian) Ministry of Culture."

Wednesday, September 16th 2009

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