Wednesday, September 02, 2009


As anyone who hosts a blog on Blogspot is aware, the software allows the option to reject comments made to any given entry. Each host has their personal reasons for why they choose to publish or not publish a comment. Before I’m accused of censorship or—God forbid!—anti-Semitism, I want to be upfront that I received a “comment” from Jerome Courshon, an L.A.-based producer/writer, which I’ve declined to publish because—in essence—it is not a comment at all; it is a boilerplate screed guised as an “open letter to John Greyson” that Mr. Courshon has been emptying into the comment sections of various sites, such as Jewlicious. I don’t see any need to publish his comment when it has been published verbatim elsewhere. In my online experience, repeated boilerplate comments are akin to shouting in an effort to drown out opposition. It’s a tactic based on the misguided belief that if you say something over and over and over again, you’ll either convince the opposition or wear them out.

If Mr. Courshon’s rant is, indeed, an open letter meant for Mr. Greyson, then I kindly request he send it to Mr. Greyson or—failing that—start his own blog instead of trying to use other people’s blogs to bully a platform. Complaining that all the governments of the world—except the United States—are anti-Semitic belabors the trope and hazards the absurd. Surely it can’t be that U.S. interest in Israel—and its strategic position in the Mideast—is merely because they’re a bunch of Jew-loving Americans?

With regard to accusations of defamation, I strongly encourage a look at Yoav Shamir’s
Hasmatsa (Defamation, 2009) wherein an Israeli director questions the conservative Jewish habit of pulling out the anti-semitism card whenever they don’t get their own way.

Greyson’s complaint that the Spotlight on Tel Aviv is an uncritical celebration of Israeli cinema achieves merit in the forum of ideas. As I’ve quoted before, multiple stakeholders invest in a film festival and it is not the role of festival personnel to satisfy the concerns of all its constituents; that would be—as Bailey implied in his response to Greyson—impossible. However, negotiation of conflicting investments is requisite. Negotiation, if not resolution. “This negotiation, in other words, is not incidental to the festival institution itself, but crucial to both its function as an event and to the way that the festival is understood as a cultural phenomenon. We might understand this as suggesting that the constant public discussion of the battle of festivals for aesthetic autonomy from the varying pressures of Hollywood, audiences, critics and corporate sponsors is theoretically misleading. The festival cannot solve these conflicts. Rather, it has an interest in playing them out in the cultural public sphere. (Emphasis added.)" (Daniel Dayan, “Looking For Sundance: The Social Construction Of A Film Festival”. Published in Moving Images, Culture and the Mind, 2009:18-19). Whether or not I agree with John Greyson’s political beliefs, I defend (and commend) his right to engender public debate within the cultural arena of the film festival itself. Since film festivals are sites of cultural production and nodes of cultural dissemination, Greyson’s protest is strategic and valid.

That being said, Mr.
Noah “Shame On You” Harlan, whose earlier comment I published in the comments section of my previous entry, has sent a follow-up comment which—out of discretion and respect to him—I’ve decided not to publish. In gist, he once again hurls accusations that I am somehow responsible for the entire world not having the chance to see and appreciate Israeli cinema. It’s my fault, wouldn't you know? Apparently, my entries covering the Covered controversy at TIFF and my vote of support for John Greyson’s right to protest at that festival means I have held a gun to the heads of ticket-buying audiences disallowing them their chance to attend these films. I just love knowing I have that much power! Don’t you wish you did? Further, because I won’t accept his shaming, Noah says I am not engaging his arguments. But this is something I’ve learned from watching old vampire movies and being on The WELL for 12 years: You don’t invite vampires—or trollish arguments—over the threshold. You just don’t, dude.

More accurately—if accuracy even counts in a meta-thrash—my experience with festival controversies is that they are part and parcel of the festival as a cultural event and, more often than not, boycotts engender interest in the very films they contest. Or if people intend to “cross the picket line” as it were, they do so consciously, perhaps even defiantly, perhaps with only piqued curiosity, but certainly with an added layer of socio-political awareness to enrichen their in-cinema experience. I doubt that Greyson’s removal of his short film from TIFF or my vote of confidence on his behalf will have much affect on attendance at the Tel Aviv Spotlight—frankly, it might help it!—but, again, his protest has brought a critical focus to an uncritical celebration. As I understand it, Greyson’s protest is not about the content of the films chosen for the spotlight nor a comment on the filmmakers who have made those films. I believe he has stated as such in his open letter to the festival heads. If anything, his protest is about what is not there and why it is not there. But rather than directly address that absence, Cameron Bailey’s response struck me as seeking to redress what he felt was a diminished appreciation of the spotlight’s content as is. Content, however, is not the issue; context is the issue. Who is funding the Tel Aviv Spotlight and why? Is TIFF aligning itself with the admitted propaganda campaign of Brand Israel? What does it mean if they are? Should invited filmmakers and their audiences care?

On the other hand, I don’t mind receiving criticism from long-time blogbud Peter Nellhaus because he expresses his disagreement without spicing it up with ad hominems and—even more importantly—he walks his talk. Peter forwarded
Cecilie Surasky’s informative interview with Naomi Klein and Israeli publisher Yael Lerer on why boycotting Israel will pressure the country to live up to international law. For me their contentions make a lot of sense and, again, I commend and defend their right to protest in the manner they strategize most effective. Perhaps what provoked me more than anything was Klein’s comment: “[T]he state of Israel has an open strategy of enlisting gay and lesbian rights and feminism into the conflict, pitting Hamas's fundamentalism against Israel's supposed enlightened liberalism as another justification for collective punishment of Palestinians (never mind the ever-growing power and intolerance of Israel's ultra-orthodox Jews). It's a very sophisticated strategy.” I’ve heard this argument used many many times, but never understood it within this context.

This transcript likewise incorporates Israeli author Neve Gordon’s agonized editorial for the
Los Angeles Times, wherein he voiced his difficult decision to support the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (i.e., the Global BDS Movement). After initially opposing the tactic, he became convinced that outside pressure "is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself." Response to his editorial has been alarmingly vitriolic.

Finally, over at Girish Shambu’s site there has been a volley between two anonymous posters—would the plural be anonymice?—in
the comments section of his August 20 entry. It’s a heated exchange redeemed by the strength of conviction. Equally, a link to Michael Posner’s Globe and Mail coverage of the Spotlight on Tel Aviv accrued an added poignancy because of the paper’s need to disable comments. Apparently “an overwhelming number of readers were making offensive statements about other commenters and/or the individual or individuals mentioned in the story”, which was a breach of their commenting policy. I can’t help but wonder: do you think Noah shamed them too?

09/03/09 UPDATE: The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation has been posted online.


John Clarke said...

It is John Greyson who is politicizing TIFF and abusing for his own political ends.

I wonder if John Greyson's big public hissy fit about TIFF has anything to do with him being on the Advisory Board of the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival and always pushing for a world-wide boycott of anything even remotely related to Israel?

Knowing what TIFF's plans were, one wonders why he waited to the last moment to withdraw, rather than just in the beginning many months ago withdrawing?

Michael Guillen said...

Bullshit. Calling another's principled protest a "hissy fit" only reveals your own agenda. If you're going to object, then write maturely.