The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is no stranger to controversy. After a 2005 lineup featuring a host of anti-Israel films capped by Arna's Children , a number of Israel advocates (including this writer) met with Peter Stein, the executive director of the SFJFF and Nancy Fishman, the program director, to express our concerns. Although we were given the chance to express our concerns, we didn't think there was much of a hearing given to them. However, to our pleasant surprise, the next 3 SFJFF lineups were free of films that would have more properly been screened at an Arab film festival (as indeed Arna's Children had been shown at the 2004 San Francisco Arab film festival).This year, however, the SFJFF has chosen to screen "Rachel", a film examining the tragic death of Rachel Corrie, the young woman who was run over by an IDF bulldozer while trying to interfere with an anti-terrorist operation in the Gaza Strip. Her death has been exploited by anti-Israel groups and has become the subject of a controversial play "My Name is Rachel Corrie". But more than just showing the film itself (which was made by an Israeli filmmaker), the SFJFF has invited Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, to speak after the film. Cindy and her husband Craig have appeared at numerous events hosted by the International Solidarity Movement (the Palestinian-led "nonviolent" terror support network for which Corrie was volunteering) and other anti-Israel groups. The film festival organizers obviously knew that this was going to create controversy and they have pre-emptively put up a statement on their website-- which of course couches their decision in the language of artistic freedom and "democratic exchange of ideas" and "spirited debate". They do, appropriately, cite other films they are showing that do provide other perspectives on Israel's struggle against terror: "Gilad Shalit: Two Years in Captivity" and "Chronicle of a Kidnap" about Karnit Goldwasser, the widow of IDF solider Ehud Goldwasser who was kidnapped from Israel and subsequently killed by Hezbollah in 2006. But for the Corrie film , the only voice that will be heard is that of Cindy Corrie. What then, after all, is the sound of one person debating?
While the film itself, given its provenance in Israel, may be a defensible choice for the festival, the appearance of Cindy Corrie is not. The letter below summarizes the issue quote nicely (thanks to Art A. for allowing me to reprint his letter here). Please send your own comments (do NOT simply cut and paste: use your own words!) to Peter Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org and Nancy Fishman at email@example.com. Keep in mind that after 2005, when approached with legitimate community concerns presented respectfully but honestly, the SFJFF did appear to be appropriately responsive.
Peter Stein & Nancy Fishman
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
July 3, 2009
Re: Your Upcoming Rachel Corrie Event
You are advertising a film festival event this summer where you will show a movie on the topic of Rachel Corrie, and offer a speaking opportunity for Rachel Corrie's mother. I suspect that you now realize - perhaps belatedly - that this will be a political event, not an artistic one. It will be a one-sided anti-Israel propaganda piece disguised as theatre.
I have read the explanatory essay you provide accompanying the advertising of the event. Clearly you are aware of the sensitivity of this topic, but not sufficiently concerned. There will be no speaker at this event to provide the Israeli perspective on this situation. Even if there were, how can even a well-informed speaker compete with the drama of a propaganda film plus a heart-breaking speech by a mother that has lost her daughter? Will there be a discussion of the misinformation and training provided by ISM that led Rachel to place herself in harm's way?
Several comments in your essay are illuminating:1. You say about Rachel Corrie's mother: "Her appearance at SFJFF is not intended to provide a political platform but rather to deepen the dialogue around the film". Are you aware that Cindy Corrie is a favorite on the speaker circuit for anti-Israel hate groups? Groups like Sabeel love to present her. She does not present a balanced perspective on this topic, to say the least.
2. You say: "The filmmaker considers herself a film essayist rather than a reporter and desires the film to be viewed as an artistic statement as well as an investigation."You are saying that the filmmaker does not hold herself to the standards of accuracy of a reporter because this is an "artistic statement". Doesn't this suggest that you know this session is not going to be fair to Israel?
3. You say: "We ... want our audience to have the benefit of a direct encounter with those who can help them understand Rachel Corrie's motivations "even if they don't agree with them." Why? Do you know ANYONE who does not understand what Rachel was taught about Israel and why she was helping ISM block the IDF?
Bottom Line: It is not a secret that the purpose of the film "Rachel" is to demonize Israel, not to "deepen dialogue". The purpose of appearances by Rachel Corrie's mother is always to demonize Israel. The lack of a speaker to respond to the accusations ensures that this event will demonize Israel.
What to do now that you seem to be committed to this event? a. Find someone sharp, educated and well prepared to respond to the charges during the post session. Such a speaker should have seen the film in advance and be familiar with the substance of Cindy Corrie's stock presentation. b. Post or hand out flyers on the topic of Rachel Corrie found at: http://www.standwithus.com/app/flyers/flyerview.asp?wc=17
Given that this is a political event, not a "film festival" event, the question for you now is how to appear even handed. c. Carefully examine how this happened. Who on your staff or board advocated for a one-sided politically driven session?As you can imagine, I will not be able to support the film festival this year. Maybe I'll see you in 2010.
Art A., San Carlos, California