Image: YouTube | OUTshine Film Festival.
News, Victoria

Melbourne Queer Film Festival screens Israeli film amid controversy

The Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) has controversially screened an Israeli film despite protests from queer Palestinian and Jewish advocates.

The group launched an email campaign in early November urging the Festival to pull Adam Kalderon’s feature The Swimmer from its program. 

The film was funded by the Israel Film Fund, a body not autonomous from the Israeli government, which retains the right to make final funding decisions. 

MQFF initially offered to meet with the community advocates the following week.

“It’s imperative that everyone in our communities feels safe and seen in our programming… and we’ll work with our communities to make sure that we’re addressing their needs,” said the Festival in a public statement.

The calls to pull the film were in response to a boycott campaign by Palestinian civil societies against Israeli institutions complicit in apartheid, occupation, and colonisation.

“The content of the film is not our contention; nor is, strictly speaking, the country of origin,” said Fahad Ali, a gay Palestinian organiser. 

“The issue is the mode of cultural production… There can be no ethical partnership with the Israeli state as things stand.”

Lisa Shiloach-Uzrad, Executive Director of the Israel Film Fund, called concerns of funding bias “totally unfounded” with “not an ounce of truth” and said that the organisation is apolitical.

“The Israel Film Fund is committed to supporting the greatest diversity of stories and narratives based on their originality, artistic vision, and the cinematic values of the projects,” said Shiloach-Uzrad.

“These alone are our considerations when choosing the films to be supported.

“Although the Israel Film Fund is supported by the Israeli ministry of culture, we are proud to say that it allows for complete freedom of speech and promotes artistic expression, even though many films do not show Israel in the best of light.” 

MQFF co-president Molly Whelan and board member Nayuka Gorrie have resigned in solidarity with the boycott.

“As an Indigenous person of this place, allowing myself or any organisation I’m a part of to be used in the propaganda machinery of a settler state makes me sick and sad,” said Gorrie in their public resignation letter.

Following the resignations, MQFF announced it would proceed with screening The Swimmer. 

The organisers have now instead offered to meet the activists after the festival is over and the film has already screened. 

The community advocates have criticised MQFF’s statement that it aims to “remain apolitical” given that one of its key media partners is Schwartz Media’s The Saturday Paper

“As John Lyons demonstrates in his new book Dateline Jerusalem, Schwartz Media – as well as Australian media more broadly – have long had an unspoken rule of silence when it comes to Israel’s human rights abuses and illegal occupation,” said a spokesperson.

They called on MQFF to honour its legacy of “protest and resistance” as more than ten filmmakers pulled their work from the Festival. 

The Swimmer screened last Friday night at Village Cinema in Naarm.

Queer Palestinian activists and allies disrupted the event inside the cinema, and around 80 protested outside. 

Activists said that five protesters were “violently” removed by police, who MQFF has maintained were called by the venue rather than by Festival organisers.

The Swimmer was screened once more in Naarm last week.

Mallee Pride has cancelled its regional Mildura screenings in solidarity with the boycott. 

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