Saturday 12 September 2009

not really a blog but kinda ... XVI

Up, Down.

“If you like challenges, there’s no greater time to be alive” - “80% by 2020!” - Lester Brown.
(A Era da Estupidez - é mesmo sim.)
The Age of Stupid
(The Age of Stupid - Trailer YouTube).
The Age of Stupid, TorontoGreen Carpet Event
Sneak Peek in Toronto at 'The Royal'

7:30 pm Monday September 21st 2009
The Age of Stupid, TorontoThe Royal Theatre, 608 College Street, Toronto.

TTC 506 Streetcar MapGoogle Map to 608 College Street or click to enlarge one of the the maps.

From the Main Street or College, or Queen’s Park subway station take the 506 Carlton streetcar.

The event is by invitation only: send an email to RSVP[at] by Wednesday September 16th 2009 asking them nicely, worked for me.

More information at: Climate Action Network Canada, or The Age of Stupid, or call (613) 241-4413.

The Age of Stupid, TorontoClimate Action Network Canada has arranged an exclusive Canadian sneak preview of the climate change film of the year, "The Age of Stupid." The screening takes place as world leaders meet at the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss climate change prior to the historic Copenhagen negotiations.

Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite stars in this celebrated film as a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, asking: Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

The evening will include a short panel discussion following the screening.

The Age of Stupid was previously mentioned here at the 'S' word (Stupid).
Also worth a look:
     San Francisco International Film Festival.
     The Age of Stupid North American Premiere Sunday May 3.
     'Age of Stupid' Finally, BOLDLY Shows Fate of Earth, review of Premiere.
     Not Stupid, The Age of Stupid action campaign.
     The Age of Stupid at Wikipedia, Franny Armstrong, Peter Postlethwaite.

The Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong, Pete PostlethwaiteThe Age of Stupid, Franny ArmstrongThe Age of Stupid, Franny ArmstrongThe Age of Stupid, Layefa MalemiThe Age of Stupid, Franny ArmstrongThe Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong
The Age of Stupid, Pete PostlethwaiteThe Age of Stupid, Pete PostlethwaiteThe Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong, Layefa Malemi, Lizzie GillettThe Age of Stupid, Layefa MalemiThe Age of Stupid, Layefa MalemiThe Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong
(lots more photos here)

They don't call it 'Toronto the Good' for nothing, people have a lot in common with King Canute around here, place is a separate planet (or should be) - TTC sees nothing at all wrong with maps where North is not at the top, doh!

ok, so the timing of this screening is to coincide with preparatory events for the Second-Cousin-of-Kyoto conference in Copenhagen ... you only have to touch the subject to be ENGULFED and DISTRACTED and BAFFLED by United Nations acronyms, COP-15, UNFCCC (I know what those C's are for right after the F :-) so I will see what I can sort out of all the bureaucratic bullshit ...

Fifteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention (COP-15) - Monday 7 December to Friday 18 December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

aka "UNFCCC COP 15 and CMP 5" the CMP is for Capital Master Plan (?), which seems to have something to do with refurbishment of their offices (???) ... erm, nope, maybe it's the "Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)"

'Fifteenth' gives you a clue eh? ANYWAY, COP is 'Conference of the Parties' I guess, these maggots have got websites up the fucking yin-yang, a POX on all bureaucrats and their purposeful confusion!

They post a picture on their website, one picture, with the caption 'Ninth session of the AWG-KP and seventh session of the AWG-LCA'

here's an acronym for you, you creeps - WTF?!

Fumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência SexualFumar Cigarros Causa Impotência Sexual
what did the trick last time was the increasing social disapprobation going on in Ottawa at that time - late 80's, it was communication, and here, now, these days ... there just ain't much of that goin' on, for communication (it turns out) really is a matter of love ...

I mentioned Naomi Klein in the last post and I was going to leave it at that, but the combination of ongoing controversy (in the press mind you, who knows what's going on on the street?) and the thought of mine that it bears on today's Globe Essay Information-rich and attention-poor has changed my mind.

There has been ongoing underneath-the-radar anti-semitism in Canada, and specifically in Toronto, in my own experience, since my childhood here certainly, and evidence has shown up in the last few years (since I have been blogging) around the United Church of Canada (UCC), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) particularly in the person of Sid Ryan - which I have commented on in January 2006: Um Nidal - is this real?, in February 2006: The United Church of Canada?, in June 2006: Liverworts, Lichens, and the United Church, in Sptember 2006: Mistaken Moral Muddlers, and more recently in August 2009: not a blog VI.

What finally convinced me was the numbers in the Globe Poll above - undated and now closed so it could have been padded by Naomi and her protesters - still, 41%, some 2,000 people appear to agree with these nitwits ... gives me pause ...

The bloom is off the self-righteous Canadian rose, not just on this issue but the environmental foot-dragging, the "Health Canada" reaction to the cancer deaths in Fort Chipewyan, the state of the RCMP ... lots of issues, "proof to warn that he not busy being born is busy dyin'," particularly the erosion of public education (or maybe the co-opting of public education by commerce & industry, whatever ...) to the point that we have at least several illiterate generations on the go

I am now reading Brian Lee Crowley's book - Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada's Founding Values (mentioned in the last post as well), according to the Foreward & Preface he ends optimistically - I will report here when I have read it for myself. I wouldn't quite rejoice over this comeuppance, it is my homeland after all - but damned close!

All of that just to ask, "Who are these people in the 41%?"

It is tempting to see what all of these people look like who signed and who didn't sign ... but it gets to be too much; Cronenberg ... I've watched some of his films and I am not impressed, didn't enjoy them in fact ... reminds me of the other one who uses Naomi Watts, David Lynch, we watched Mulholland Drive in a theatre in Rio, tiny place, full when we got there so we had to sit in the back row, a-and next to us, well next to Jane, were two women making out, had to laugh, Jane was upset ... but Eastern Promises? just ... stupid, stereotypes, nonsense, so do I take his opinion on this Tiff tiff? gets complicated

Robert Lantos' take There's justice, and then there's propaganda is the one I agree most with ... whatever, a tempest in a teapot, mostly uninformed, ill-informed, mis-informed ... plain stupid & best forgotten

John Greyson, Queer as FolkJohn Greyson, Queer as FolkJohn GreysonJohn Greyson, Laura RighiJohn GreysonJohn Greyson, Queer as Folk

it seems to my memory that 'queer as folk' was a newfie expression just meaning 'strange' (?) got co-opted in the late 60's, again, as I remember from being there

anyway, after all the jigs and reels, it was John Greyson who began it and it looks to me like John Greyson is the 'winner' out of it, the film in question (you can watch it, Covered with a small preliminary sermonette on Israel ...) is what it is, probably has had more viewing because of the controversy than it would have gotten if he had left it in, to me it is pretentious & self-serving, not that 'visual' per se - ongoing titles that must be read ... covers of Madonna's Fly Like a Bird? please give me a break! his response to attacks, which took place at the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, seems exaggerated to me, there were 26 attacks (?), eight hospitalized (?), ok, that number of people probably died in Kenya while I was watching the film this afternoon, and the perfidy of Canadian diplomats which he asserts looks like it was simply assumed, taken for granted that they lied and spun, but no proof provided, another kind of exaggeration ... to me? junk

what's the worst I can say? ... he reminds me of a gay wazzizname, Michael Moore ... but who knows? ho hum, who cares? is he getting any government money for this?

Norman BorlaugNorman Borlaug has died and everyone mourns this "great man," a Nobel Peace prize winner, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the father of the Green Revolution ... but maybe the ghosts of the Indian farmer suicides are not mourning? (see Rules of Thumb).

and finally ... Nanosolar, Completes Panel Factory, Commences Serial Production, YouTube video. Almost fully-automated factories making 1MW per month - no one will object except the unions :-)

1. Information-rich and attention-poor, Globe essay, Peter Nicholson, 12 September 2009.
     1a. Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr, July/August 08.
2. TIFF tiff:
     August 27: John Greyson's Letter to TIFF.
     September 2: The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation.
     September 8: TIFF focus on Tel Aviv draws protests, Michael Posner.
     September 9: Artists for censorship, Globe Editorial.
     September 10: We don't feel like celebrating with Israel this year, Naomi Klein.
     September 10: Group plans presser over TIFF City-to-City program (Later Cancelled).
     September 11: Cronenberg, Jewison, Oscar-winning rabbi weigh in on TIFF's Israel debate.
     September 12: Voight feuds with old co-star over film-festival protest, Michael Posner.
     September 12: There's justice, and then there's propaganda, Robert Lantos.
     September 15: Signing protest letter was rash, Fonda says, Michael Posner.
3. Agriculture pioneer Borlaug dies, BBC, Sunday 13 September 2009.

Information-rich and attention-poor, Globe essay, Peter Nicholson, 12 September 2009.

Coping with the troubling tradeoff between depth of what we know and how fast we retrieve it may require something like peripheral intellectual vision

Twenty-eight years ago, psychologist and computer scientist Herbert Simon observed that the most fundamental consequence of the superabundance of information created by the digital revolution was a corresponding scarcity of attention. In becoming information-rich, we have become attention-poor.

The three technologies that have powered the information revolution – computation, data transmission and data storage – have each increased in capability (and declined in cost per unit of capability) by about 10 million times since the early 1960s. It is as if a house that cost half a million dollars in 1964 could be bought today for a nickel, or if life expectancy had been reduced from 75 years to four minutes.

This has unleashed a torrential abundance of data and information. But economics teaches that the counterpart of every new abundance is a new scarcity – in this case, the scarcity of human time and attention. The cost of one's time (approximated, for example, by the average wage) relative to the cost of data manipulation, transmission and storage has increased roughly 10-million-fold in just over two generations – a change in relative “prices” utterly without precedent. This, above all, is what is driving the evolution of online behaviour and culture, with profound implications for the production and consumption of knowledge. The primary consequence is the growing emphasis on speed at the expense of depth.

Behaviour inevitably adapts to conserve the scarce resource – in this case, attention and time – and to “waste” the abundant resource. Thus, for example, much of the new technology's capability has been spent on simplifying interfaces and reducing communications latencies essentially to zero; both of these conserve precious time for users. The same motive has also spawned a plethora of indexing and searching schemes, of which Google is the chief example. These are all seeking to be attention-optimizers.

Today's information technology is nowhere near its theoretical physical limits, though many engineering and cost hurdles may slow development after 2015. Nanotechnologies and quantum phenomena nevertheless promise to support a new growth path for decades to come. For example, a recently announced storage technology using carbon nanotubes may allow digital information to be held without degradation for a billion years or more – an innovation that would eliminate the major shortcoming of the digital archive.

We may think metaphorically of the production of knowledge as a function of “information” and “attention,” with attention understood as the set of activities by which information is ultimately transformed into various forms of knowledge. By virtue of its unprecedented impact on the relative prices of information and human attention, information technology is driving a correspondingly profound transformation of knowledge production, the main feature of which is a shift of emphasis from “depth” to “speed.” This is simply because depth and nuance require time and attention to absorb. So as attention has become the dominant scarcity, depth has become less “affordable.” Moreover, with information so abundant, strategies are needed to process it more quickly, lest something of vital interest or importance is missed.


Knowledge is evolving from a “stock” to a “flow.” Stock and flow – for example, wealth and income – are concepts familiar to accountants and economists. A stock of knowledge may be thought of as a quasi-permanent repository – such as a book or an entire library – whereas the flow is the process of developing the knowledge. The old Encyclopedia Britannica was quintessentially a stock; Wikipedia is the paradigmatic example of flow. Obviously, a stock of knowledge is rarely permanent; it depreciates like any other form of capital. But electronic information technology is profoundly changing the rate of depreciation. By analogy with the 24-hour news cycle (which was an early consequence of the growing abundance of video bandwidth as cable television replaced scarce over-the-air frequencies), there is now the equivalent of a 24-hour knowledge cycle – “late-breaking knowledge,” as it were. Knowledge is becoming more like a river than a lake, more and more dominated by the flow than by the stock. What is driving this?

Most obvious is the fact that the media by which electronic information is presented and manipulated permit it to be changed continuously and almost at no cost. Information products are therefore constantly evolving, for the simple reason that, faced with the option, who would not choose an updated over an outdated version? By the time information products eventually come to rest, they are very likely to be considered obsolete. In the cutthroat competition for attention, they are no longer “news.”

Consequently, there is little time to think and reflect as the flow moves on. This has a subtle and pernicious implication for the production of knowledge. When the effective shelf-life of a document (or any information product) shrinks, fewer resources will be invested in its creation. This is because the period during which the product is likely to be read or referred to is too short to repay a large allocation of scarce time and skill in its production. As a result, the “market” for depth is narrowing.

There is also under way a shift of intellectual authority from producers of depth – the traditional “expert” – to the broader public. This is nowhere more tellingly illustrated than by Wikipedia, which has roughly 300,000 volunteer contributors every month. The upshot is that thousands of heads working in parallel are, in an environment of information superabundance, presumably better than one, even if that one is an expert.

What makes the mobilization of “crowd wisdom” intellectually powerful is that the technology of the Web makes it so easy for even amateurs to access a growing fraction of the corpus of human knowledge. But while hundreds of thousands of Web-empowered volunteers are able to very efficiently dedicate small slices of their discretionary time, the traditional experts – professors, journalists, authors and filmmakers – need to be compensated for their effort, since expertise is what they have to sell. Unfortunately for them, this has become a much harder sell because the ethic of “free” rules the economics of so much Web content. Moreover, the value of traditional expert authority is itself being diluted by the new incentive structure created by information technology that militates against what is deep and nuanced in favour of what is fast and stripped-down.

The result is the growing disintermediation of experts and gatekeepers of virtually all kinds. The irony is that experts have been the source of most of the nuggets of knowledge that the crowd now draws upon in rather parasitic fashion – for example, news and political bloggers depend heavily on a relatively small number of sources of professional journalism, just as many Wikipedia articles assimilate prior scholarship. The system works because it is able to mine intellectual capital. This suggests that today's “cult of the amateur” will ultimately be self-limiting and will require continuous fresh infusions of more traditional forms of expert knowledge.

With almost all of the world's codified knowledge at your fingertips, why should you spend increasingly scarce attention loading up your own mind just in case you may some day need this particular fact or concept? Far better, one might argue, to access efficiently what you need, when you need it. This depends, of course, on building up a sufficient internalized structure of concepts to be able to link with the online store of knowledge. How to teach this is perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity facing educators in the 21st century.

For now, the just-in-time approach seems to be narrowing peripheral intellectual vision and thus reducing the serendipity that has been the source of most radical innovation. What is apparently being eroded is the deep, integrative mode of knowledge generation that can come only from the “10,000 hours” of individual intellectual focus – a process that mysteriously gives rise to the insights that occur, often quite suddenly, to the well-prepared mind. We appear to be seeing fewer of the great synthetic innovations associated with names like Newton, Einstein or Watson and Crick.


So we decry the increasing compartmentalization of knowledge – knowing more and more about less and less – while awaiting the great syntheses that some day may be achieved by millions of linked minds, all with fingertip access to the world's codified knowledge but with a globe-spanning spectrum of different perspectives. The hyperlinked and socially networked structure of the Internet may be making the metaphor of the Web as global “cyber-nervous system” into a reality – still primitive, but with potential for a far more integrated collective intelligence than we can imagine today.

Those of us who are still skeptical might recall that Plato, in the Phaedrus, suggested that writing would “create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it.” This is a striking example of a particular kind of generation gap in which masters of an established paradigm can only see the shortcomings, and not the potential, of the truly novel. Today, the electronic screen, with its lack of linear constraint, its ephemeral scintilla and its hyperlinked multimedia content, portends a very different paradigm. How this may condition the habits of thought of the so-called “digital natives” – who, after all, are about to become both the custodians and creators of human knowledge – is one of the deepest and most significant questions facing our species. The challenge is to adapt, and then to evolve, in a world where there continues to be an exponential increase in the supply of information relative to the supply of human attention.

The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation, September 2 2009.

An Open Letter to the Toronto International Film Festival:

(Le texte français suit l'anglais - Spanish text also below)

As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.

In 2008, the Israeli government and Canadian partners Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation launched “Brand Israel,” a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel. Brand Israel would take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its aggressive wars, and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture. An article in Canadian Jewish News quotes Israeli consul general Amir Gissin as saying that Toronto would be the test city for a promotion that could then be deployed around the world. According to Gissin, the culmination of the campaign would be a major Israeli presence at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008.)

In 2009, TIFF announced that it would inaugurate its new City to City program with a focus on Tel Aviv. According to program notes by Festival co-director and City to City programmer Cameron Bailey, “The ten films in this year’s City to City programme will showcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity.”

The emphasis on 'diversity' in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.

This letter was drafted by the following ad hoc committee:
Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel
Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada
Richard Fung, video artist, Canada
John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada
Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada
Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada
Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada
b h Yael, film and video artist, Canada
Endorsed By:
Ahmad Abdalla, Filmmaker, Egypt
Hany Abu-Assad, Filmmaker, Palestine
Mark Achbar, Filmmaker, Canada
Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist, South Africa
Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Filmmaker, Jerusalem
Anthony Arnove, Publisher and Producer, USA
Ruba Atiyeh, Documentary Director, Lebanon
Joslyn Barnes, Writer and Producer, USA
Harry Belafonte, Musician/Actor, USA
John Berger, Author, France
Walter Bernstein, Screenwriter/Film Producer, USA
Dionne Brand, Poet/Writer, Canada
Daniel Boyarin, Professor, USA
Judith Butler, Professor, USA
David Byrne, Musician, USA
Noam Chomsky, Professor, USA
Julie Christie, Actor, USA
Guy Davidi Director, Israel
Na-iem Dollie, Journalist/Writer, South Africa
Igor Drljaca, Filmmaker, Canada
Eve Ensler, Playwright, Author, USA
Eyal Eithcowich, Director, Israel
Lynne Fernie, Filmmaker and Programmer, Canada
Sophie Fiennes, Filmmaker, UK
Peter Fitting, Professor, Canada
Jane Fonda, Actor and Author, USA
Danny Glover, Filmmaker and Actor, USA
Noam Gonick, Director, Canada
Malcolm Guy, Filmmaker, Canada
Rawi Hage, Writer, Canada
Anne Henderson, Filmmaker, Canada
Mike Hoolboom, Filmmaker, Canada
Annemarie Jacir, Filmmaker, Palestine
Gordon Jackson, Jazz Musician, South Africa
Fredric Jameson, Literary Critic, USA
Juliano Mer Khamis, Filmmaker, Jenin/Haifa
Bonnie Sherr Klein Filmmaker, Canada
Joy Kogawa, Writer, Canada
Paul Laverty, Producer, UK
Min Sook Lee, Filmmaker, Canada
Paul Lee, Filmmaker, Canada
Yael Lerer, publisher, Tel Aviv
Mark Levine, Professor, USA
Jack Lewis, Filmmaker, South Africa
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Arab Lotfi, Filmmaker, Egypt/Lebanon
Kyo Maclear, Author, Toronto
Mahmood Mamdani, Professor, USA
Fatima Mawas, Filmmaker, Australia
Anne McClintock, Professor, USA
Tessa McWatt, Author, Canada and UK
Viggo Mortensen, Actor, USA
Cornelius Moore, Film Distributor, USA
Yousry Nasrallah, Director, Egypt
Joan Nestle, Writer, USA
Rebecca O'Brien, Producer, UK
Pratibha Parmar, Producer/Director, UK
Anand Patwardhan, Documentary Film Maker, India
Jeremy Pikser, Screenwriter, USA
John Pilger, Filmmaker, UK
Shai Carmeli Pollak, Filmmaker, Israel
Ian Iqbal Rashid, Filmmaker, Canada
Judy Rebick, Professor, Canada
David Reeb, Artist, Tel Aviv
B. Ruby Rich, Critic and Professor, USA
Wallace Shawn, Playwright, Actor, USA
Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker and Scholar, Paris/London/Sderot
Elia Suleiman, Fimmlaker, Nazareth/Paris/New York
Eran Torbiner, Filmmaker, Israel
Alice Walker, Writer, USA
Thomas Waugh, Professor, Canada
Christian Wiener Freso, President – Union of Peruvian Filmmakers, Peru
Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director Women Make Movies, USA
Howard Zinn, Writer, USA
Slavoj Zizek, Professor, Slovenia

Artists for censorship, Editorial, September 9.

It is good that the Toronto International Film Festival is standing up against an attempt to intimidate it by a group of artists and writers who oppose the festival's 10-film series from Tel Aviv. In trying to treat Israel as a pariah among nations, the group would scorn anyone who does not accept its one-sided worldview. Capitulation to these self-appointed censors should not be an option.

The protest group - Canadian documentarian John Greyson and writer Naomi Klein, U.S. novelist Alice Walker, British filmmaker Ken Loach and more than 60 others - begins with a smear of the festival's leadership. Intentionally or not, it says, TIFF "has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine." But what has TIFF done? It has started a program called City to City, with the stated goal of taking "a closer look at global cities through a cinematic lens, especially cities where film contributes to or chronicles social change in compelling ways." Tel Aviv is its inaugural global city. The 10 films include Jaffa, about a Jew and her Arab childhood sweetheart "pulled apart by fate"; Bena, about a father trying to keep his schizophrenic son out of an institution; and Big Eyes, about the local counterculture. This is propaganda?

The answer from the protesters is an extreme sophistry: To highlight films from Tel Aviv is akin to "rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid." Do not touch Israel, they are saying to all the film and arts festivals, anywhere in the world. It is to be shunned. Mr. Greyson has pulled his documentary from the festival.

TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey responded to the smear against his festival in a reply on its website: "As the programmer of City To City, I was attracted to Tel Aviv ... because the films made there explore and critique the city from many different perspectives." He stressed that the decision was the festival's alone. "We value that independence and would never compromise it. . . . We will continue to screen the best films we can find from around the world."

Free expression cannot exist in an atmosphere of intimidation. By refusing to be cowed, TIFF has stood up for artists everywhere.

We don't feel like celebrating with Israel this year, Naomi Klein, September 10.

This is not a call to boycott TIFF, it's a simple message of solidarity

When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival was holding a celebratory “spotlight” on Tel Aviv I felt ashamed of my city. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women's-rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. “We had more hope during the attacks,” she told me, “at least then we believed things would change.”

Ms. Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as a hundred thousand on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. “People called it war crimes,” Ms. Al Shawa recalled. “We felt we were not alone in the world.” If Gazans could just survive them, it seemed these horrors would be the catalyst for change.

But today, Ms. Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory. The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths – as many as 1,400 – were not enough to bring justice. Indeed Israel is refusing to co-operate even with a toothless UN fact-finding mission, headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Last Spring, while Mr. Goldstone's mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was selecting movies for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed with the city's 100th birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel's desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and this week's glittering Toronto premieres. It's quite possible that Cameron Bailey, TIFF's co-director, believes it himself. He is wrong.

For more than a year, Israeli diplomats have been talking openly about their new strategy to counter growing global anger at Israel's defiance of international law. It's no longer enough, they argue, just to invoke Sderot every time someone raises Gaza. The task is also to change the subject to more pleasant areas: film, arts, gay rights – things that underline commonalities between Israel and places such as Paris and New York. After the Gaza attack, this strategy went into high gear. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits,” Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told The New York Times. “This way, you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Toronto got an early taste of all this. A year ago, Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, explained that a new “Brand Israel” campaign would include, according to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, “a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand.” Mr. Gissin pledged that, “I'm confident everything we plan to do will happen.” Indeed it has.

Let's be clear: No one is claiming the Israeli government is secretly running TIFF's Tel Aviv spotlight, whispering in Mr. Bailey's ear about which films to program. The point is that the festival's decision to give Israel pride of place, holding up Tel Aviv as a “young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity,” matches Israel's stated propaganda goals to a T.

It's ironic that TIFF's Tel Aviv programming is being called a spotlight because celebrating that city in isolation – without looking at Gaza, without looking at what is on the other side of the towering concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints – actually obscures far more than it illuminates. There are some wonderful Israeli films included in the program. They deserve to be shown as a regular part of the festival, liberated from this highly politicized frame.

This is the context in which a small group of us drafted The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration Under Occupation, which has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover and Ken Loach (we will be unveiling hundreds of new names on the first day of TIFF). Contrary to the many misrepresentations, the letter is not calling for a boycott of the festival. It is a simple message of solidarity that says: We don't feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to Mona Al Shawa and millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them, and we are still outraged.

Group plans presser over TIFF City-to-City program, September 10.

Growing support spurs plans for media event coinciding with TIFF opening

Bolstered by increasing support, a coalition of filmmakers and other members of the cultural community protesting the Toronto International Film Festival's spotlight on Tel Aviv are planning a press conference on the festival's opening day.

Although organizers have yet to release details of location, time or even who will speak, a spokeswoman for the group who wrote an open letter to the festival confirmed the plan for a Thursday press conference "due both to the tremendous support we have received since releasing the letter, and also to answer our critics."

More than 50 filmmakers, academics, writers and artists have signed the letter, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Naomi Klein and Ken Loach. The letter objects to TIFF's decision to choose Tel Aviv for its City-to-City program, which celebrates a foreign city through film. The group has said it is not protesting the individual Israeli filmmakers, but says that TIFF "has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine," whether intentionally or not.

Cronenberg, Jewison, Oscar-winning rabbi weigh in on TIFF's Israel debate, Michael Posner, September 11.

More film luminaries – and one of America's most prominent rabbis – speak out on protest over the Toronto festival's Tel Aviv focus

The tiff at TIFF continues to gather steam.

Fresh salvos were fired Thursday from both sides of the dispute over the Toronto International Film Festival's special spotlight on Tel Aviv and 10 Israeli filmmakers.

On Thursday, heavyweight filmmakers David Cronenberg, Norman Jewison and Ivan Reitman, actors Minnie Driver and Saul Rubinek, as well as one of America's most prominent rabbis, joined the debate.

All issued separate statements criticizing a group that includes activist Naomi Klein, actors Jane Fonda and Danny Glover and some 60 others. That group last week signed what has become known as the Toronto Declaration. Posted online, it accuses the festival of being the witting or unwitting victim of an Israeli government propaganda effort to polish that nation's image. By singling out Tel Aviv, it says, TIFF has become complicit in what has been called a Brand Israel campaign.

Klein, who has emerged as the de facto spokesperson for the Toronto Declaration group, said in an interview that it had some major show-business names of its own, among them actors Julie Christie, Harry Belafonte and Viggo Mortensen.

All of them, she said, had signed the letter of protest. The group is expected to hold a press conference Monday evening in Toronto with Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, among others.

Meanwhile, Cronenberg said in a statement, “I am against censorship in all its forms. The attempts to stop TIFF's City to City spotlight on Tel Aviv amount to political censorship. I am against it.”

Echoing those remarks, Academy Award-winning director Jewison said, “the recent attack on Israeli films at TIFF is an attempt to politicize art and smacks of anti-Semitic bigotry. Let's keep political hatred out of the artistic community. Artists should treat each other with respect and support regardless of religion, colour, or nationality.”

Earlier in the day, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and a two-time Oscar winner for documentaries The Long Way Home and Genocide , said Klein, Fonda and Canadian documentary filmmaker John Greyson were parroting the rhetoric of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in challenging Israel's claim to Tel Aviv.

It was Greyson who precipitated the dispute almost two weeks ago by withdrawing his short documentary film from the festival in protest against the Tel Aviv focus.

“If the protesters were really interested in the propaganda issue,” Hier said, “then why does their letter wrongly accuse Israel of being an apartheid state or wrongly claim Tel Aviv is built on former Palestinian villages?” That, he said, “shows you what their real agenda is, the de-legitimization of Israel itself.”

Hier arrived in Toronto Thursday from Washington, where he had attended a reception at the home of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. “There were 100 Jewish community leaders there,” Hier said, “and all they wanted to talk about was what was happening in Toronto.”

However, Klein said Thursday that her group is not making any claims about Tel Aviv and isn't trying to censor anyone. Rather, they find the special focus on Tel Aviv offensive, in the wake of last winter's Gaza War, and find the timing of the Brand Israel campaign and TIFF's decision to choose Tel Aviv for the inaugural edition of the City to City program more than coincidental.

It was TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey, she noted, who used the phrase “contested ground” in reference to Tel Aviv.

Bailey made the statement in an online posting in which he denied that TIFF had been subject to any undue influence in choosing the Israeli city for the program.

Asked her position on whether a final Middle East settlement would include one bi-national state or two separate states, one Palestinian and one Jewish, Klein said: “It should be up to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to decide what kind of states or state they want. I have never advocated for any position on it and am not about to start. My only concern is that all states must abide by international law. There is absolutely no merit in the claim that the letter advocates a one-state solution.”

A blog maintained by Jane Fonda also indicates that she supports the two-state solution, Klein added.

Voight feuds with old co-star over film-festival protest, Michael Posner, September 12.

Actor Jon Voight is accusing Jane Fonda of 'aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel'

Actor Jon Voight is accusing actress Jane Fonda - his co-star in his Oscar-winning turn in the anti-Vietnam war film Coming Home - of "aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel."

In a strongly worded letter released yesterday, Mr. Voight said "Jane Fonda is backing the wrong people again" by signing her name to a recent letter of protest against the Toronto International Film Festival's decision to shine a cinematic spotlight on Tel Aviv and 10 Israeli filmmakers.

The spotlight is one element in the 34th annual festival, which opens tomorrow.

Ms. Fonda, actor Danny Glover, musician David Byrne, activist Naomi Klein and filmmaker Ken Loach were among a group of more than 50 artists who last week signed an online letter alleging that TIFF's decision to showcase Tel Aviv made the festival complicit in an Israeli government propaganda campaign.

Their letter followed an earlier one by Toronto documentarian John Greyson, who withdrew his short film Covered from the TIFF program, also in protest.

Mr. Voight, 71, maintains that "people like Jane Fonda and all the names on that letter are assisting the Palestinian propagandists against the State of Israel. ... Jane Fonda's whole idea of the 'poor Palestinians,' and 'look how many Palestinians the Israelis killed in Gaza,' is misconstrued. Does she not remember what actually took place in Gaza? Did Israel not give the Palestinians of Gaza the hope that there could be peace? In response, did Hamas not launch rockets from Gaza into Israel, killing many innocent people?

"This seems to me to be another one of Jane Fonda's misplaced 'patriotic' duties toward the wrong people. I was in Israel. I saw the rockets coming down on Sderot, and visited many families who lost their loved ones. How long can a democratic country keep from defending itself?"

Mr. Voight, a former liberal who once made public appearances with Ms. Fonda in support of left-wing groups in Chile, renounced his former activism as "Marxist propaganda" a few years ago. "Time and again, [Israel] offered the Palestinians land," his letter says. "They always refused. They don't want a piece of the pie, they want the whole pie. They will not be happy until they see Israel in the sea."

Yoav Paz, co-director of Phobidilia, one of the 10 films in TIFF's City to City/Tel Aviv spotlight, yesterday expressed puzzlement at the protest. "Tel Aviv," he said, "is the cultural centre of Israel. There is complete freedom of expression here. Toronto runs one of the great film festivals of the world. I'm honoured to be included. I don't understand why this has become a political issue."

Meanwhile, the group orchestrating the original protest has postponed its plans for a press conference.

There's justice, and then there's propaganda, Robert Lantos, September 12.

The TIFF protest is at odds with our society's fundamental values: freedom of expression and freedom of individual choice

I am not a professional agitator and I don't write political missives for a living. I am a filmmaker, however, and I have a very long history with the Toronto International Film Festival, which I have had the honour of opening 10 times. I write this from the set of Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version, whose hero, Barney Panofsky, would undoubtedly share my view: Enough is enough!

There is a difference between most people and professional propagandists. The latter serve their cause by repeating a false statement of “fact” so often and with such emphasis that decent people think there must at least be a modicum of truth to it.

This age-old but effective propaganda technique has, as of late, given rise to such blatant falsehoods as “Israeli apartheid,” or, to quote Naomi Klein's open letter to TIFF last week, “The city of Jaffa [was] Palestine's main cultural hub until 1948.” This seemingly factual statement fails to mention the detail that there was no such thing as Palestine prior to 1948. The city of Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 in what was then a Turkish colony, later a British colony and once upon a time a Roman colony, consisting of lands from which the indigenous Jewish population had been forcefully – though never fully – evicted.

The headline of last week's open letter, protesting the focus on films by Tel Aviv filmmakers, was “No celebration of occupation,” which incorrectly implies that Tel Aviv is occupied territory. We are not talking about the West Bank or the Golan Heights here, but the biggest population centre in the heart of Israel, where the first neighbourhood was built in 1887. If that is disputed territory, then Ms. Klein and her armchair storm troopers are clamouring for nothing short of the annihilation of the Jewish state. They are effectively Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's local fifth column.

The Toronto festival is showcasing movies made by filmmakers from Tel Aviv. This foul and coercive attempt to disrupt the display of their talent simply because they are citizens of the Jewish state is not just an Israeli issue. It is a Canadian issue. It is an assault on our most cherished values, on the very reason why my family chose to immigrate to this country. In Canada, we hold our freedom of expression sacred. Filmmaking is free of political censorship and festivals are free to program whatever they wish.

TIFF's independence was hard won. In 1978, when my first movie, In Praise of Older Women, was shown at the opening-night gala, the Ontario Censor Board attempted to prevent it from being shown, demanding cuts. The fundamental logic of censorship is premised on the principle of in loco parentis: that the censor knows better what's good for people than they know themselves. We defied the censors and my film was shown uncut. In the 30 years since, the festival has operated without interference or sanctions. Until now.

I don't hold with the lashing of women for the “crime” of wearing trousers, but I don't believe the festival should boycott films from Malaysia. I'm not a fan of Iran's dictatorship, but that doesn't give me the right to demand the festival cancel Iranian film screenings.

Ironically, the boycott Tel Aviv affair began over filmmaker John Greyson's decision to withdraw his short documentary Covered to protest the presence of Israeli films. His film documents the disruption, by local homophobes, of the Sarajevo Queer Film Festival.

As Mr. Greyson, Ms. Klein and their mob know perfectly well, Israel is the only country in its region where a film like his could be made and shown without government interference, and where no one is persecuted or discriminated against because of his or her sexual persuasion. The protesters obediently kowtow to the party line of autocratic regimes and terrorist organizations who would not hesitate, given the opportunity, to dispatch Mr. Greyson and his film to a painful fate, which regardless of our differences, I would not wish on anyone.

Let us be clear. If Ms. Klein was truly interested in justice, she would be alarmed by the screening of films from countries such as China and Iran, where civil liberties are in short supply. She would be marching in front of the theatre showing the film from Malaysia. But their crusade is against a tried and thoroughly tested target: Jews. Today, it is Jewish filmmakers from Tel Aviv who are in their sights, but their ultimate objective is far more ambitious and devastating.

So I repeat – enough is enough. Their brand of censorship is at odds with our society's fundamental values: freedom of expression and freedom of individual choice. Incitement like theirs has no place at TIFF.

TIFF focus on Tel Aviv draws protests, Michael Posner, September 8.

International group of artists decries festival's complicity with 'Israeli propaganda machine'

An international group of more than 50 prominent filmmakers, writers, artists and academics – including Ken Loach, David Byrne, Naomi Klein, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Wallace Shawn and Danny Glover – has signed a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to spotlight the city of Tel Aviv and the work of 10 Israeli filmmakers.

The letter is to be published online Thursday, with a call for additional signatories.

“As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by [TIFF’s] decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv,” the letter begins. “We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.”

The letter, coming on the virtual eve of the festival’s 34th edition, follows Canadian filmmaker John Greyson’s decision last week to pull his short documentary, Covered, from the TIFF lineup to protest the festival’s decision to launch its new City to City program by focusing on Tel Aviv.

John Greyson's Letter to TIFF

“We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City,” the new letter states. “Nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However … we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of … an apartheid regime.”

The new missive contends that TIFF organizers have, wittingly or unwittingly, been complicit in a million-dollar ‘Brand Israel’ PR campaign to change negative perceptions of the state of Israel.

The artists allege that the campaign is designed to “take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians” and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture.

The letter includes endorsements by several Israeli filmmakers and at least one Palestinian-Israeli director, Elia Suleiman, with a film in this year’s festival – The Time that Remains. He is not, however, withdrawing the film.

Last week, responding to Greyson’s protest, TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey insisted that the Israeli government had played no role in developing the new program.

“There was no pressure from any outside source,” wrote Mr. Bailey, in a letter posted on the TIFF website. “This focus is a product only of TIFF’s programming decisions. We value that independence and would never compromise it.” A TIFF spokesman Wednesday declined to add to that statement.

However, two other Canadian filmmakers, producer Robert Lantos and Emmy-award winning documentarian Simcha Jacobovici, weighed in Wednesday.

“[TIFF] deserves applause for its refusal to cater to the agenda of biased individuals with an axe to grind,” Mr. Lantos said in a statement.

Mr. Lantos, currently overseeing production of Barney’s Version, the Mordecai Richler novel, said Mr. Greyson’s “hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Israel is the only state in the Middle East where films are made freely and without censorship of any sort [and] the only country in the region where a gay positive film like Mr. Greyson’s could be produced and freely shown”

Mr. Jacobovici, a Toronto filmmaker who recently moved with his family to Israel, noted in a statement that the Palestinian government in Gaza had recently called a U.N. proposal to teach the Holocaust in Palestinian schools a war crime. “Why does Greyson want to align himself with Holocaust deniers?”

Shmulik Maoz, an Israeli director whose much-acclaimed film Lebanon will play at TIFF, said Wednesday that “film festivals should be above” discussions about boycotts and protests. “Trying to shut people’s mouths is not smart. In any event, most of the filmmakers in the City to City program are as critical of the Israeli government as anybody.”

Many of the voices protesting TIFF’s focus on Tel Aviv are part of a wider campaign, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Among them is Toronto writer and political activist Naomi Klein who said Wednesday that it “strains credulity” to think that TIFF’s decision to spotlight Tel Aviv was not connected to the Israeli PR campaign. Such a programming decision “feeds Israel’s foreign policy goals and presents Israeli society as more diverse and open than it actually is,” she said.

A more nuanced position perhaps was voiced by Berkeley filmmaker Deborah Kaufman, who said in an e-mail statement that while the Brand Israel campaign “blurs the line between public relations and crass propaganda,” the City to City program included Assi Dayan’s brilliant Life According to Agfa, “which I see as an attack on the entire Zionist enterprise, and Eytan Fox’s The Bubble, a provocative fantasia on failed dreams,” films that allow “audiences to make their own judgments about Israeli politics.”

“I also want to push change,” Ms. Kaufman said. “But I feel our strength as film activists is to promote debate and critical thought through engagement, not silencing.”

John Greyson's Letter to TIFF, John Greyson, August 27.


August 27, 2009

Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey, Noah Cowan
Toronto International Film Festival
2 Carlton St., 13th floor
Toronto Canada M5B 1J3

Dear Piers, Cameron, Noah:

I've come to a very difficult decision -- I'm withdrawing my film Covered from TIFF, in protest against your inaugural City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv.

In the Canadian Jewish News, Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin described how this Spotlight is the culmination of his year-long Brand Israel campaign, which includes bus/radio/TV ads, the ROM's notorious Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and "a major Israeli presence at next year¹s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand." Gissen said Toronto was chosen as a test-city for Brand Israel by Israel's Foreign Ministry, and thanked Astral, MIJO and Canwest for donating the million-dollar budget. (Astral is of course a long-time TIFF sponsor, and Canwest owners' Asper Foundation donated $500,000 to TIFF). "We've got a real product to sell to Canadians... The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said."

This past year has also seen: the devastating Gaza massacre of eight months ago, resulting in over 1000 civilian deaths; the election of a Prime Minister accused of war crimes; the aggressive extension of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands; the accelerated destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards; the viral growth of the totalitarian security wall, and the further enshrining of the check-point system. Such state policies have led diverse figures such as John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Bishop Desmond Tutu to characterize this 'brand' as apartheid. Your TIFF program book may describe Tel Aviv as a "vibrant young city... of beaches, cafes and cultural ferment... that celebrates its diversity," but it's also been called "a kind of alter-Gaza, the smiling face of Israeli apartheid" (Naomi Klein) and "the only city in the west without Arab residents" (Tel Aviv filmmaker Udi Aloni).

To my mind, this isn't the right year to celebrate Brand Israel, or to demonstrate an ostrich-like indifference to the realities (cinematic and otherwise) of the region, or to pointedly ignore the international economic boycott campaign against Israel. Launched by Palestinian NGO's in 2005, and since joined by thousands inside and outside Israel, the campaign is seen as the last hope for forcing Israel to comply with international law. By ignoring this boycott, TIFF has emphatically taken sides -- and in the process, forced every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the occupation to cross a type of picket line.

Let's be clear: my protest isn't against the films or filmmakers you've chosen. I've seen brilliant works of Israeli and Palestinian cinema at past TIFFs, and will again in coming years. My protest is against the Spotlight itself, and the smug business-as-usual aura it promotes of a "vibrant metropolis [and] dynamic young city... commemorating its centennial", seemingly untroubled by other anniversaries, such as the 42nd anniversary of the occupation. Isn't such an uncritical celebration of Tel Aviv right now akin to celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963, California grapes in 1969, Chilean wines in 1973, Nestles infant formula in 1984, or South African fruit in 1991?

You're probably groaning right now -- "inflammatory rhetoric!" -- but I mention these boycott campaigns because they were specific and strategic to their historic moments, and certainly complex. Like these others, the Israel boycott has been the subject of much debate, with many of us struggling with difficult questions of censorship, constructive engagement and free speech. In our meeting, for instance, you said you supported economic boycotts like South Africa's, but not cultural boycotts. Three points: South Africa was also a cultural boycott (asking singers not to play Sun City); culture is one of Canada's (and Israel's) largest economic sectors (this spotlight is funded by a Canadian Ministry of Industry tourism grant, after all); and the Israel rebrand campaign explicitly targets culture as a priority sector.

Many will still say a boycott prevents much needed dialogue between possible allies. That's why, like Chile, like Nestles, the strategic and specific nature of each case needs to be considered. For instance, I'm helping organize a screening in September for the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, co-sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Inside Out Festival. It's a doc that profiles Ezra Nawi, the queer Israeli activist jailed for blocking army bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes. Technically, the film probably qualifies as meeting the technical criteria of boycott -- not because it was directed by an Israeli filmmaker, but because it received Israeli state funding. Yet all concerned have decided that this film should be seen by Toronto audiences, especially Jews and Palestinians -- a strategic, specific choice, and one that has triggered many productive discussions.

I'm sorry I can't feel the same way about your Tel Aviv spotlight. Despite this past month of emails and meetings, many questions remain for me about its origins, its funding, its programming, its sponsors. You say it was initiated in November 2008... but then why would Gissen seem to be claiming it as part of his campaign four months earlier? You've told me that TIFF isn't officially a part of Brand Israel -- okay -- but why haven't you clarified this publicly? Why are only Jewish Israeli filmmakers included? Why are there no voices from the refugee camps and Gaza (or Toronto for that matter), where Tel Aviv's displaced Palestinians now live? Why only big budget Israeli state-funded features -- why not a program of shorts/docs/indie works by underground Israeli and Palestinian artists? Why is TIFF accepting and/or encouraging the support of the Israeli government and consulate, a direct flaunting of the boycott, with filmmaker plane tickets, receptions, parties and evidently the Mayor of Tel Aviv opening the spotlight? Why does this feel like a propaganda campaign?

This decision was very tough. For thirty years, TIFF has been my film school and my community, an annual immersion in the best of world cinema. You've helped rewrite the canon through your pioneering support of new voices and difficult ideas, of avant-garde visions and global stories. You've opened many doors and many minds, and made me think critically and politically about cinema, about how film can speak out and make a difference. In particular, you've been extraordinarily supportive of my own work, often presenting the hometown premieres of my films to your legendary audiences. You are three of the smartest, sharpest, skillful and most thoughtful festival heads anywhere -- this isn't hyperbole, with all of you I speak from two decades worth of friendship and deep respect -- which makes this all the more inexplicable and troubling.

What eventually determined my decision to pull out was the subject of Covered itself. It's a doc about the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, which was cancelled due to brutal anti-gay violence. The film focuses on the bravery of the organizers and their supporters, and equally, on the ostriches, on those who remained silent, who refused to speak out: most notoriously, the Sarajevo International Film Festival and the Canadian Ambassador in Sarajevo. To stand in judgment of these ostriches before a TIFF audience, but then say nothing about this Tel Aviv spotlight -- finally, I realized that that was a brand I couldn't stomach.

John Greyson

For the duration of TIFF, I've posted Covered at:

Agriculture pioneer Borlaug dies, BBC, Sunday 13 September 2009.

Norman Borlaug, the man known as the father of the Green Revolution in agriculture, has died in the US state of Texas aged 95. Prof Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for agricultural innovation and the development of high-yield crops.

The Green Revolution helped world food production more than double between 1960 and 1990 with Asia, Africa and Latin America in particular benefiting. The Nobel Institute said he had helped save hundreds of millions of lives. Prof Borlaug died late on Saturday evening at his home in Dallas from complications with cancer, said a spokesperson for Texas A&M University, where he had worked.

'A better place'

In the early 1960s Prof Borlaug realised that creating short-stemmed varieties would leave food plants more energy for growing larger heads of grain.

His high-yield, disease-resistant dwarf wheat quickly boosted harvests in Latin America, and his techniques were particularly successful in South Asia, where famine was widespread.

Analysts believe the Green Revolution helped avert a worldwide famine in the late 20th century.

A close friend of Prof Borlaug at Texas A&M, Dr Ed Runge, told Associated Press news agency: "He has probably done more and is known by fewer people than anybody that has done that much... He made the world a better place."

The Nobel prize presentation said Prof Borlaug "more than any other single person of his age... has helped to provide bread for a hungry world". Prof Borlaug continued his work into his 90s. At a conference in the Philippines in 2006 he said: "We still have a large number of miserable, hungry people and this contributes to world instability.

"Human misery is explosive, and you better not forget that."

Norman Borlaug was born in Iowa in 1914. He studied at the University of Minnesota and later worked for DuPont and the Rockefeller Foundation. He set up his wheat and maize centre in 1963 to train scientists. Prof Borlaug was awarded the highest US civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, in 2007.

Signing protest letter was rash, Fonda says, Michael Posner, Tuesday Sep 15 2009.

Actress questions document's wording reprimanding festival

Actress Jane Fonda, one of the principal voices criticizing the Toronto International Film Festival's special spotlight on Tel Aviv, stepped back last night from her position.

In an official statement, Ms. Fonda wrote that she had “signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn't exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue.

“Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city ‘built on destroyed Palestinian villages,' for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas's 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza. Many citizens now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.

“In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region,” Ms. Fonda added, “in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.”

The Fonda statement comes amid a flurry of pro- and anti-Israeli statements.

Yousry Nasrallah, an Egyptian filmmaker at TIFF, announced that two Egyptians films, The Traveller and Heliopolis, and one unnamed Arab short had been pulled from the festival, as part of the protest. Mr. Nasrallah said it was the producer of Heliopolis, not its director, Ahmad Abdalla, who wanted that film pulled.

The coalition of artist and activists opposed to the TIFF focus on Tel Aviv – because it seems to coincide with an Israeli government plan to promote Israeli arts and sciences – held a public meeting at Ryerson University, attended by some 300 people.

They gave standing ovations to Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman and Canadian director John Greyson, whose decision last month to pull his short documentary from TIFF's 2009 lineup was the catalyst for the current controversy, a standing ovation.

Although the protesters insist that they do not intend to boycott or censor Israeli films per se, most of the people who have signed the group's letter of protest are part of the much broader boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign aimed at weakening the Israeli state.

However, Mr. Suleiman warned the audience to be careful of the boycott weapon, saying it has to be applied selectively.

The protesters so-called Toronto Declaration, posted online with an open request for additional signatories, has so far drawn 1,500 supporters.

The two-hour meeting, which included videotaped and written statements from Canadian activist Naomi Klein, filmmaker Ken Loach, novelist Alice Walker and Israeli filmmaker Uri Aloni was on one occasion – when Mr. Greyson was speaking – interrupted by hecklers from the Jewish Defence League. After repeated warnings, the hecklers were escorted out by security personnel.

On the other side, some major names in show business, including Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Kudrow Monday signed their names to a statement applauding TIFF for “including the Israeli film community in the Festival's City to City program. Anyone who has actually seen recent Israeli cinema … knows they are in no way a propaganda arm for any government policy. Blacklisting them only stifles the exchange of cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect.”


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