International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) has again found itself caught in the middle as the fall-out from the war between Israel and Hamas spills out to Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers and into the festival space.
The Palestine Film Institute (PFI) has today issued a strongly-worded statement in which it has demanded IDFA acknowledge that the festival’s earlier statement ”unjustly criminalises Palestinian voices and narratives” and has withdrawn from all IDFA market participation.
The PFI statement is in reference to an apology made by IDFA on Friday for the slogan brandished by protesters on the opening night when activists took to the stage with the sign ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. The slogan has become a rallying cry of pro-Palestinian protests during the ongoing war. But it is a contentious phrase considered anti-Semitic by some, a call for an independent Palestinian state by others.
Sixteen leading figures from the Israeli film industry then signed an open letter expressing their dismay at festival director Orwa Nyrabia’s “muted and pale official response” to the “horrific meaning of the slogan” and what they saw as a “personal attack against them.”
The PFI today said: “With hearts weighed down like the rubble in Gaza, the Palestinian Film Institute (PFI) announces its withdrawal from all organised activities at the IDFA Market. This includes the presentation of three poignant documentary projects capturing the supposed ‘essence’ of the Palestinian experience.
The petition accused IDFA of remaining “silent in the face of the ongoing genocide perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza. Over 11,000 lives lost, 1 million displaced, and 3,000 missing.”
PFI has recommended that filmmakers withdraw their films from the festival.
Palestinian artist and filmmaker Basma Al-Sharif has withdrawn her four short films from the festival: Deep Sleep; Farther Than The Eye Can See, Story Of Milk and Honey, and Capital.
However it is understood Palestinian director Mohamed Jabaly will not be withdrawing his film, Life Is Beautiful, which screens in the International Competition.
When contacted by Screen on Sunday afternoon, IDFA’s head of industry Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen had no comment “at the moment” to make on the PFI statement. However, she confirmed IDFA would be publishing another statement.
The PFI statement in full:
In response to IDFA’s damaging statement on 11 November 2023:
Our statement and Demands
With hearts weighed down like the rubble in Gaza, the Palestinian Film Institute (PFI) announces its withdrawal from all organized activities at the IDFA Market. This includes the presentation of three poignant documentary projects capturing the supposed ‘essence’ of the Palestinian experience. While recognizing the attendance of many, we, as programmers, filmmakers, and audience members, assert our refusal to collaborate with a festival engaged in institutional violence and censorship.
For five weeks, IDFA remained silent in the face of the ongoing genocide perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza. Over 11,000 lives lost, 1 million displaced, and 3,000 missing; a grim picture of the atrocities against Palestinians. Moreover, journalists and documentarists bravely documenting war crimes were targeted and murdered, with 41 killed in the last 36 days by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
In response to IDFA’s silence, three activists seized the Opening Night stage, holding a banner that displayed the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” An iconic slogan of solidarity that envisions a unified, equal land for Palestinians of all faiths, reminiscent of pre-Nakba times.
Even though the above-mentioned slogan is legally protected and considered non-discriminatory under Dutch law, in a damaging statement released on the 10th of November, IDFA decided to condemn this slogan, overshadowing the activists’ plea for solidarity and liberation. IDFA eventually issued a belated statement on the same day, calling for a ceasefire only after the vilification of Palestinian voices.
As the world’s largest documentary film festival, IDFA holds the responsibility to respond to the plight of journalists and documentarians on the ground in Gaza, the Palestinian film community, and Palestinian lives. Contrary to its stated goal of promoting films that inspire critical thinking and societal betterment, IDFA’s actions fall short.
The Palestine Film Institute is steadfast in its belief in the transformative power of authentic narratives and stories. Our mission is to carve out a space for Palestinian filmmakers within the industry, offering them opportunities to showcase their films, gain visibility, and secure an equal standing in renowned film festivals like IDFA, Cannes, and Sheffield DocFest, among others. This endeavor is a collective undertaking involving filmmakers and those championing film production. Remarkably, it thrives without the backing of an official support body or the recognition of a nation-state. Our project is a testament to the dedication and time invested in building trust and evolving alongside friends and allies.