Last year, the San Francisco Film Festival bravely programmed the film Rachel, about the life and death of Olympia-raised pro-Palestine peace activist, Rachel Corrie. As a result of the screening, the director of the Koret Foundation slammed both the film and the festival for supporting “anti-Israel propaganda.” To its credit, the Festival didn’t cancel the film and didn’t back down in any substantive way.
The upcoming Seattle Jewish Film Festival has no such courage of its convictions. The director took one look at the first image on screen and said: “No way:”
Beyond her hopes that Seattle’s festival will bring local Jews together rather than divide, Lavitt said she rejected Rachel first and foremost on quality, which she said was too incendiary and unwilling to see more than one side of the story. Unlike the stage play My Name is Rachel Corrie, in which Corrie’s character opens with her head under a sheet and shining a flashlight on her journal, “this film…begins with the body of Rachel Corrie in a morgue,” Lavitt said. “No dialogue could get your head past that.”
Notice the director says she rejected the film because of its poor quality and then quickly adds it was “too incendiary.” Of the two, I think we know what the real reason for rejection was. And apparently you can’t exhibit any film at the Seattle festival that includes images of a dead American girl killed by the IDF.
To view an interview with filmmaker Simone Bitton, watch this YouTube video.
Another film you won’t see this year in Seattle is American Radical: the Trials of Norman Finkelstein. If you thought Rachel Corrie was too “incendiary,” Norman Finkelstein is downright inflammatory. And Seattle doesn’t do controversy apparently. The motto seems to be: don’t rock the boat. Now here I always thought the purpose of great film and art was to provoke, to question, to trouble, to make you think about the big questions of Jewish identity. In Seattle, there’s a six foot fence around these issues.
There is one excellent Israeli film the festival is featuring, Ajami, which is an unusual film in that it portrays the seamier side of Israeli life and the poor Tel Aviv-Jaffo neighborhood of Ajami. Of course, it hasn’t hurt the film that it swept all major Israeli film awards and has been nominated for an Oscar. Clearly, liberal Zionists in Seattle feel comfortable with a film that Israel and the outside world has embraced even if it does deal with troubling notions of what it is to be an Israeli Palestinian in one of Israel’s poorest neigborhoods. But when it comes to discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you can forget about it. As far as the Seattle festival is concerned, the 2007 Gaza war never happened. BDS doesn’t exist and the Goldstone Report never happened. Let’s see if Ms. Lavitt is willing to program documentaries about these difficult issues in future festivals.
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Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.