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Melbourne Queer Film Festival rejects calls to drop Israeli film

Michael Visontay
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Published: 23 November 2021

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Israeli film director congratulates MQFF for resisting campaign by pro-Palestinian protesters who urged cancellation of The Swimmer and called for a BDS ban

THE DIRECTOR OF ISRAELI film The Swimmer has congratulated the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) for standing by its decision to screen the film in the face of a campaign by pro-Palestinian activists to have it removed from the festival program.

Festival organisers are preparing for a second protest tonight when the film is screened at the Jam Factory. Some 40 people gathered on Friday in a protest before the first screening of the film, according to a spokesperson for MQFF, after festival organisers rejected their earlier calls not to screen it.

"I congratulate the festival management for standing up under pressure and allowing my film to be part of the festival,” Adam Kalderon, director of The Swimmer, told The Jewish Independent. “The entanglement of culture and politics clashes with the idea of a gay festival. The Swimmer is dedicated to a silent, disempowered and hidden populace - gay athletes."

"The gay community is still hunted in several communities in the world and has not attained the status of equal rights. Dismissing or vetoing films of personal stories is an aggressive use of power and totally against the concept of equality.”

A spokesperson for MQFF, David Micallef, told The Jewish Independent that Friday night’s screening was disrupted on three separate occasions by protesters inside the theatre, who were allowed to explain the reason for their actions to the audience of 190 people before being ushered away by police without further incident.

The protests followed a series of complaints by pro-Palestinian activists in the week before the opening of the festival on Friday about the inclusion of an Israeli film because the festival programmers did not also include a Palestinian feature film, and that the inclusion of The Swimmer constituted “pinkwashing” ((diverting attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

In its response, the MQFF board noted that the festival was screening a short Palestinian film, Borekas, and an opening night film, Flee, which chronicles a gay man’s perilous journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.

The activists had also argued that because the film was funded by the Israeli Film Fund, the MQFF should adopt the principles of the BDS movement.

In response to the complaints, the festival board released two statements explaining why it would not bow to the calls to remove The Swimmer, and would not adopt BDS.

“The Board considered that the BDS supporters’ complaint regarding this film was based on its country of origin, and that the film is propaganda of the State of Israel which ‘pinkwashes’ the treatment of LGBTIQ+ Palestinians.”

MQFF received many private calls of support by pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli supporters but they were uncomfortable about voicing their support in public.

But the Board said it “considered that the content of this film does not focus on the Israel/Palestine conflict but is a personal narrative that focuses on homophobia within elite sport, which is based on the director’s own experiences as an athlete.”

The statement added that the Board “noted that a majority of films within the festival receive government funding from relevant institutions in their country of origin”.

After reviewing all of the information, it said it cannot justify the demand to remove the film.

The Jewish Independent has been told that the MQFF received many private calls of support for the film by pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli supporters but they were uncomfortable about voicing their support in public.

In the wake of the MQFF second statement, Molly Whelan, co-president of MQFF, stepped down from their position, claiming "their values no longer lined up with those of the board", according to a report by Vice.

According to the Vice report, a second board member, Nayuka Gorrie, then also stepped down, also citing The Swimmer. The MQFF also features a Chinese film, Moneyboys. When asked by The Jewish Independent whether there had been any calls to screen this film because of the Chinese government’s repression of its Uighur minority, David Micallef said he had not received any demands about the film.

The Swimmer is scheduled to be screen twice more: once tonight again at the Jam Factory and next weekend at the Nova cinema.

Photo: Still from The Swimmer

About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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