Kathy Wazana, who is, according to her brother, a good cook, and John Greyson, a little-known Canadian filmmaker who became well known after boycotting the Toronto International Film Festival last year (2009), are now trying to boycott another film festival. This time, it’s in Israel: the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival. Their attempt has caused them to step on some toes, including James Cameron’s, of Avatar, Titanic, Terminator and Aliens fame.
For a reminder about the hypocrisy and foolishness of their efforts with the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF), take a look at the post dedicated to Kathy Wazana and the one dedicated to John Greyson. Apparently, this time, they felt comfortable attaching the names of individuals who were not asked and do not approve of being linked to any boycott of any films, Israeli or otherwise, to a draft of the letter.
In a draft letter addressed to international film schools participating in this year’s Tel Aviv University student film festival, Toronto-area filmmaker Kathy Wazana and York University film professor John Greyson urge professors and department heads to boycott the festival, saying the Israeli government “actively uses cultural events such as this one to whitewash their tarnished international image.”
Should anybody be surprised that they would resort to maligning others by including them, even as a joke, on a letter advocating censorship? No. Any filmmaker or artist who supports a boycott of the work of other artists while denying that they intend to harm the other artists – which is what these two and their colleagues did in last year’s protests – is already acting egregiously.
There is also a chance that at least one of them was acting dishonestly:
“Tereza Barta, an associate professor at York’s film department, said she received emails from the organizers of the Tel Aviv festival asking for clarification over comments Prof. Greyson made to them that “led them to believe he was speaking on behalf of the department.”
Should we be surprised? No, this has become the tactic of many on the Left whose politics lean against Israel. You shut down a series of films here, a film festival there, an Israeli ambassador speaking to a university audience here, an Israeli foreign minister speaking to another university audience there, and on and on and on. They think they should be heard, but not others. The hypocrisy is astonishing.
What is especially troubling is that the festival these two are seeking to undermine is a student film festival at an Israeli university. John Greyson is a professor of film at York University, for heaven’s sake! How could a person who teaches film-making at a university advocate a boycott of student films or the festival of another university?! How, especially, could he advocate such a boycott among film schools?
Should York film students or Canadian film schools be boycotted because Canada is fighting in Afghanistan where many innocent civilians have been killed by US, Canada and their allies in the war with the Taliban? According to John Greyson’s standards, the answer is apparently yes.
Mind you, Greyson does not actually advocate taking any actions against Canadian films, or against Chinese student films because of what China has done in Tibet, or against Russian films because of Russia’s actions in Chechnya, or against American films because of American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or against any European countries because of what their UN led forces did in Kosovo. Heck, he doesn’t even care about boycotting Iranian films after a stolen election and repression of opponents of the ruling regime. No, Mr. Greyson stands firmly and solely against Israeli films.
I vote that John Greyson’s films be excluded from any film festival in the world that treasures freedom of expression and of art. I am not suggesting for a minute that his films should be boycotted or even protested against, no,no, no. He can set up a TV set in the middle of Toronto’s beautiful downtown and show his movies to passers-by, or he can show his films in places that don’t treasure free speech like areas where the Palestinian Authority or Hamas govern, or Syria, or Iran. By all means, let him show his films in those places, but NOT at the forums that he would use to exclude other filmmakers. Not at film festivals in democratic countries that treasure freedom of expression.
I would also suggest that York University film students avoid his classes. Can you imagine what would happen if one of them were to make a film about Israel that dares to depict the situation neutrally or in a manner supporting Israel? Can you imagine being a Jewish (or non-Jewish) student in his classroom who comes to class one day wearing a t-shirt with some pro-Israel slogan? Would that person find their grades suffering? These are hypothetical questions, but they are rooted in Greyson’s actions. Let’s face it, any intelligent student who reads the news would know how Greyson feels and would self-censor themselves. They wouldn’t make a film that he would oppose politically or wear a t-shirt that might inform him that the wearer’s Mid-East political views support Israel. Now that’s a great way to teach filmmakers and students to express their ideas openly!
York University may be in agreement with me:
Meanwhile, York University attempted to distance itself from Prof. Greyson, saying he is acting as a private individual and not on behalf of the university.
“The Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, as well as students, will not support the boycott he is calling for. York University students are submitting films to the festival,” said York spokesman Keith Marnoch.
When asked if the school was considering any disciplinary action against Prof. Greyson, he said the idea is “being looked into.”
By the way, how did Jane Fonda and James Cameron react?
“Ms. Fonda did not know such a letter existed and of course did not sign anything and does not agree with its contents,” Pat Kingsley, Ms. Fonda’s publicist, told the National Post Thursday.
“I believe … one of the two drafters of the letter added her name and James Cameron as a joke. Contents of this letter certainly do not represent Jane Fonda’s thinking.”
Cameron (a Canadian film-maker himself) provided the kind of response that should be hung up in the hallways of York University’s film school:
â€œTo suppress a gathering of artists, from afar, through boycott or any other means of exerting pressure, is wrong.”
â€œIt is ridiculous to punish artists for the actions of governments, under any circumstances,â€ he said. â€œAnd to ask other artists to exert political pressure on a government, no matter what oneâ€™s opinion of that government or its policies, by punishing artists, is obscene on its face.â€
â€œWhen film is forced to be political, itâ€™s called propaganda,â€ he continued. â€œIt is up to the artistic community to firewall itself from political pressure, so that opinions may be expressed freely.â€
â€œI believe that film is a way of lowering cultural boundaries and understanding an issue from an opposing perspective. Film allows us to see the world through the lens of another personâ€™s reality, and as such is our most powerful tool for bringing people together and for avoiding conflict.â€
If you’re a film student at York, I suggest you follow the lead of that great Canadian film-maker, Mr. Cameron, and not that of your professor, Mr. Greyson.